Is there something wrong with sitting in a "W" position? Is it worth the worry? Well... it might very well be!
I never though anything of it, really, until my son's last doctor appointment a week ago. She noticed he was sitting in the "W" position... a position in which the knees are bent but the legs stick out on both sides (see picture hereafter).
She asked us if our son often sat that way... I answered "yes", my boyfriend answered "no"... talk about being on the same page! So, in any case, she suggested that we don't allow him to sit in such position, and rather encourage the indian position. Even if the "W" position offers a child great balance and support, it can be, allegedly, damaging to the child in the long run. The doctor being a little evasive and not too intricate on the issue, I decided to do my own research on it. I was eager and curious, to say the least, to find out what the deal was about the "W". Funny how things work tough... if it wasn't for my son sitting in that particular position at that precise moment, right in front of the doctor, I would have never been aware of this sitting position and the whole shebang! So I figured that, if I didn't have a clue about this topic, then perhaps a lot of parents out there too were clueless! So this one is for all you clueless, or so-so clueless, people out there... !
First off, did you know there are 8 different possible positions for sitting on the ground? Posture "W" being one of them. Children will often switch from one posture to another. There is little reason to worry if the time spent in "W" doesn't exceed the average time spent in other postures. In fact, the "W" posture is probably the one that, naturally, is the least popular with children considering that it limits the movements of the trunk and makes it harder to sit and raise from this position compared to the other postures.
But why do some children adopt the "W"? It goes without saying that a kid attempts to feel secure and comfortable so that he can play actively with his hands. He will favour the "W" if it ends up being the posture that meets most of his needs. But then you wonder... if a child opts for the "W" sitting position, should we question ourselves about something else? Apparently yes, indeed! We should be inquisitive if a child prefers this position significantly over the other positions. The child is trying to tell us that he prefers a more stable as well as a more restrictive posture than one offering greater freedom of movement with his trunk. Therefore one must enquire about the child's postural control. The postu-what?!? Postural control is the unconscious process from the activation of the trunk muscles which aims at adjusting the posture depending on the position. It's a little tricky to understand so let me give you an example. If you lean forward, you will gradually and automatically activate your trunk's extensor muscles to keep you from falling forward. Postural control depends on a variety of factors that deserve to be evaluated in children who take a liking to the position "W". Additionally, it is said that it is best to get a paediatrician's or orthopedist's opinion in order to determine if there is an issue with the bone alignment or with the hip joint's stability. (Hypes 2008)
Now, what I really wanted to figure out are the impacts of this posture. Well, it is said that there are a few things to be aware of. And they go like this:
- Beware of joints: Seeing that this posture puts a lot of tension and pressure on the knee ligaments, the "W" position should be discouraged to avoid provoking pain and instability at the knees and hips in the future.
- Beware of muscle weakness: Maintaining this more stable posture decreases the muscular effort required at the shoulders, torso and hips levels. Consequently, after a little while, these muscles will get fewer opportunities to develop.
- Beware of equilibrium reaction: Once more, the posture being more stable, less postural adjustments are necessary. On the somewhat long term, these adjustments and the more matured balance reactions will have fewer opportunities to develop.
- Beware of muscle stiffness: The muscles around the hips and thighs will need to compensate for this lack of stability by contracting on a more continuous basis. This may eventually lead to a loss of muscle amplitude (muscles shortening).
- Beware of compensation: The child will be incline to develop a variety of compensatory movement patterns in other motor skills situations.
- Beware of fine motor skills: As already mentioned, this posture is particularly restrictive in terms of trunk mobility. The sideways movements are somehow obstructed, limiting the rotation of the trunk and, consequently, activities performed with one or both hands requiring crossing of the midline, an imaginary line dividing the body into right and left halves. Ultimately, the lost opportunities to cross the midline may harm the development of handedness. For these reasons, functional impacts on the fine and gross motor skills can be expected.
As a parent, you can certainly help your child in using less of the "W". Obviously, the easiest way would be to never let your little one get used to it. Hence being more vigilant and constant in discouraging this attitude in its early uses. You can also play at giving names to the other postures and turn it into a game by practicing them for short periods of time. Some suggestions of other ways to sit may be the indian sitting (legs crossed), side sitting or even long sitting. Likewise, you can offer your child to sit on a small pillow or cushion, placed under the buttocks. This will reduce a little bit the effort required on the trunk extensor muscles. When sitting in the indian position, or in a position harder for him to master, you can ask your kiddo to lean his back against the wall. Promote short-term activities that alternate between sitting and standing when teaching him the other postures. For example, the game of musical posture in which you move and dance until the music stops. Your child must then sit on a floor mat or a designated area in a predetermined posture. You can gradually stretch the time that he must remain seated on the mat.
As my son's doctor told us, it can become an issue if the child sits in this position over and over. However, it doesn't necessarily mean it will end up being an issue altogether. But I guess it's always better to be safe than sorry, right!?