We recently came across the article entitled Why W-Sitting Is Really Not So Bad for Kids, After All and felt compelled to restate our side of the w-sitting debate!
As pediatric therapists, we have treated hundreds of kids and we have seen hundreds more in classrooms who are w-sitters. Our post about w-sitting has consistently been one of our most popular and most-read posts at The Inspired Treehouse and the w-sitting controversy continues to go on.
The W-Sitting Debate
While w-sitting can be a completely normal part of development for kids, it can also be a sign of underlying developmental issues.
As mentioned in the Today.com article, normal, internal rotation of the leg bones can be a cause of w-sitting.
We agree that this medical condition known as femoral anteversion can be a reason that children w-sit. Because of their already turned-in bone structure, this position is certainly more comfortable for some kids.
But, as the Boston Children’s website states, femoral anteversion only occurs in up to 10% of children. It’s not likely that most parents would be able to recognize femoral anteversion in their children and be able to attribute their child’s w-sitting pattern to this condition. Given this statistic, it’s also not likely that this condition could be causing all of the many cases of w-sitting that we see in our practice.
W-Sitting and Core Stability
The Today.com article goes on to say that “there is no evidence that it (w-sitting) is bad for core stability”. We disagree! So many kids choose the w-sitting position in the first place because of weak core muscles. W-sitting is a compensatory strategy to help kids gain stability. Children cannot gain strength or improve their core stability by grounding themselves to the floor!
Many pediatric therapists would argue that the w-sitting position limits kids’ ability to achieve active trunk rotation and weight shifting. Try it (if you can even get yourself into a w-sitting position). Sit with your bottom on the floor between your legs and try to rotate all the way to the left and then the right.
Now choose to sit in another position. Rebecca Talmud Spiegel, a fellow physical therapist, shows some awesome diagrams and pictures of alternative positions for your reference in her article, Adventures in W-Sitting. Rotate your trunk again. Isn’t it easier to move without your base of support planted firmly on the ground? Isn’t it easier to cross the midline with both hands?
W-Sitting and Developmental Milestones
So is this weight shifting and trunk rotation really that big of a deal? Any physical or occupational therapist would answer YES!
If a child is unable to assume any other sitting position, or primarily assumes a w-sitting position for play throughout the day – they don’t have access to the variety of movement experiences they need to acquire important developmental milestones.
As we mentioned in our previous article, What’s Wrong With W-Sitting?, we do not walk around correcting every single child we see in a w-sitting position. We completely agree that most children will explore this sitting position at some point in their development, moving in and out of it as they play. For the typically developing child, this is a-okay!
However, we want to educate parents that if a child chooses to spend the majority of her time on the floor in the w-sitting position, she is missing out on key aspects of motor development including bilateral coordination, balance, and strengthening.
And, w-sitting can be a signal of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Sometimes, a lack of core strength can be related to the failure of the integration of a primitive reflex as Integrated Learning Strategies explains in their post, Primitive Reflexes: The Answer Behind W-Sitting and How to Fix It.
We have been asked time and time again by readers for research-based evidence proving that w-sitting is problematic. Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t exist. We are relying on years of experience with observing, evaluating, and treating children to inform our opinion on w-sitting. And we’re not alone! Check out what some of our colleagues have to say about w-sitting:
Adventures in W-Sitting from Dinosaur Physical Therapy
Preventing W-Sitting from Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips
Is W-Sitting Bad for Child Development? – A well-informed and more moderate point of view on w-sitting from CanDo Kiddo
W-Sitting and the Young Child – from North Shore Pediatric Therapy
What’s So Wrong With W-Sitting – from The Pediatric Therapy Center
For all of you researchers out there, I urge you to take this one on! We’d love to see a study that takes a closer look at w-sitters and non w-sitters, scoring them on their fine and gross motor abilities. Look at core strength. Find out who w-sits chronically and who doesn’t, comparing the two groups. I am willing to bet that there will be some discrepancies!