W-Sitting vs. Side-Sitting: Why Does it Matter?

child w-sitting

Over the years it’s become increasingly common knowledge among parents to “correct” the W-sitting position with their children. Pediatric therapists have been discouraging W-sitting for years—but why?

If your child is a chronic W-sitter, you may feel like a broken record while harping on them to “fix your legs!”. While “criss-cross applesauce” can be a nice alternative to W-sitting, it’s not the only option! Let’s talk about why we discourage W-sitting in the first place, what a side-sit is, and the benefits of side-sitting to encourage functional motor development.

What is W-sitting?

W-sitting is a sitting posture often observed in children who have lower muscle tone or core weakness. The child’s legs form a W shape with the knees in front and the feet splayed out to the sides. This position turns the thighs inward (“hip internal rotation”).

Why do we discourage W-sitting anyway?

W-sitting creates a very wide base of support, meaning that the core muscles don’t have to “turn on” as much while the child is seated on the floor. This position doesn’t require as much strength to sit upright to attend to tasks. It also puts the hamstrings in a shortened position, and if the child spends most of their time seated this way, it could lead to long-term hamstring tightness.

W-sitting also puts a good amount of stress on the knee joints, though there is not hard evidence to suggest that it leads to joint issues (arthritis or dislocation) later in life as some may believe. Overall, the position is also discouraged by many pediatric PTs and OTs because it tends to be a very stationary position and does not set a child up for success with transitions.

When a child W-sits, they aren’t in optimal alignment for transitioning into a hands and knees position for crawling or moving. Rather, the W-sit is very easy to remain in for longer periods of time and could discourage quadruped crawling in younger infants.

What is a side-sit?

Side-sitting refers to sitting with both feet out to the same side, either with both feet out to the left or both feet out to the right. In a sense, it almost looks like “half” of a W-sit, but in a way that is much more functional! Instead of both hips being stuck internally rotated (thighbones turned inward), one hip rotates inward and the other hip rotates outward. 

What makes side-sitting a better alternative to W-sitting?

Instead of turning off the core muscles like a W-sit, this position does the very opposite: it activates the core, specifically the abdominal obliques. These muscles are a key player in gross motor development! Side-sitting engages the obliques while the child is sitting and playing, promoting transitions into and out of sitting and thus encouraging movement during play (in contrast to static W-sitting in one place). While in a side-sit, the trunk is twisted, which encourages movement into the transverse plane, the plane of rotation within the body. The transverse plane of movement is necessary for gross motor development- i.e. walking, running, etc.

While it’s important to avoid and discourage W-sitting, the main focus should be on using a variety of play positions. Cross-legged sitting may be comfortable for some children who have adequate hip external rotation (the thighs turn outward when you sit criss-cross), but for children who don’t have as much range of motion, this position may not be preferred.

Side-sitting is one of most beneficial sitting positions, and a W-sit can easily be turned into a side-sit just by moving one leg over to the side. If you find that your child continues to return to the W position even after you’ve corrected their legs, consider having them sit in a chair at a small table, aiming for a chair that allows their feet to touch the floor.

Not all children respond the same way to sitting cues, so do what works best for your little one. Reach out to our pediatric Physical Therapy team with any follow-up questions, additional tips, and new tricks to foster gross motor development!

Written by Jessica Tarence, PT, DPT

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