If Your Toddler Sits This Way, You Might Need to Take a Closer Look ...

Kids are like pretzels. They're always bending their little bodies into poses that we adults struggle to get into at yoga class. But there's some controversy about one particular pose that's pretty common among the toddler set. It's called the "W-sit." And the toddler in the photo here is doing it. (See the W?)

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"Many typically developing childen, including my own kids, W-sit during play," says Kendra Gagnon, PT, PhD, a pediatric physical therapist and associate professor of physical therapy education at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. "It's common in older infants and toddlers who are just learning how to move in and out of a sitting position."

W-sitting is also the preferred sitting position of kids with developmental delays, since they may have tight muscles around their knees and hips, as well as low muscle tone and weak trunk muscles, says Gagnon. "W-sitting provides a wider base of support that makes a child feel more stable while they sit and play."

So what's the big deal?

Well, when done for short periods of time, W-sitting is no big deal. But some experts believe habitual W-sitting can have a negative effect.

Because a child's hips rotate inwards when they sit this way, "some are still in a W position once they're standing," explains Samantha Dutrow, PT, DPT, CSCS, a physical therapist for Stanford Children's Health in Palo Alto, California. "Their thighs are still internally rotated and their toes are turned in. It's like they can't get out of the position."

Because W-sitting doesn't promote trunk rotation -- meaning kids can't easily turn from side to side -- they're not building up stomach and back muscles, learning how to shift their weight, or getting practice at crossing the midline of their body, says Dutrow.

"When a child W-sits, they're stuck playing with the toys that are right in front of them. They don't get a chance to twist or swing their arms across their body. Crossing the midline is important as they learn to walk and run and even write," says Dutrow. "If you think about the process, your right hand needs to be able to cross to the left side of the paper."

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W-sitting is sometimes associated with other developmental concerns like hip instability, muscle tightness, or low muscle tone, but "based on the evidence, we can't say that W-sitting causes those issues," says Gagnon. "It may be the other way around: that unstable hips, a weak trunk, and tight hamstrings may lead to W-sitting. The truth is we don't know."

Almost all young children W-sit at times, but most will naturally lose interest in this position as they mature, Gagnon says. "If your child is otherwise healthy and developing normally, occasional W-sitting isn't a concern."

If it is your child's go-to position, try gently encouraging them to kneel, sit with legs crossed, and with their legs forming a circle. "Choose a position that works for them and isn't seen as punishment," says Dutrow.

And if you're also aware of delayed milestones, abnormal movements or postures, or your child does have trouble sitting in other positions, "share your concerns with a physician or physical therapist," Gagnon suggests. "Based on your child's needs, they can recommend activities to help her gain strength or mobility."

Does your toddler "W-sit"?


Image © iStock/KristinaGreke

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