The Brilliance of W-Sitting

… and Learning How To Play For Another Way

I have come across several articles recently that suggest that you tell your child NO or that you insist your child sit differently every time you find her sitting in the “W” position. But I am here to say that the No-No approach deprives both you and your child of valuable learning.

First, let me remind you that your child is simply brilliant! If she could sit comfortably in other positions — she would, and telling her not to do something that feels safe and comfortable only undermines your child’s sense of self. So, let’s see if we can learn why she is sitting “W” style and use that knowledge as a foundation for understanding, connecting and empowerment. Second, you probably know the old adage by Lao Tzu: “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’ 

Well, as a parent and teacher it is sometimes your role to lead in the dance of development. It is up to you to help create a space and pace for your child to experience the joys of learning — learning that allows the higher levels of organization that are important for coordination, balance, and attention to unfold naturally. Taking time to explore with your child will empower both of you for a lifetime.

  Taking time to explore with your child will empower both of you for a lifetime.

 

What is W-sitting?

“W-Sitting” or “W-Sit” is referring to the position of a child’s legs when they sit on their bums with their knees bent and their feet out to either side of their hips. I know you have seen this somewhere before. Perhaps you thinking it looks a lot like the vajrasana pose you do in your yoga class. Maybe you did it as a kid or know someone who has. Perhaps you have even seen it in your own munchkin.

When is it ok?

Children often move into and out of this position during play or when transitioning from crawling to sitting, especially before 11 months.  It temporarily widens the base of support, giving the child a greater sense of stability and balance during exploration and play. You may even see your older child coming in and out of this position from time-to-time while playing on the floor. W-sitting is perfectly normal and a brilliant strategy for freeing the arms and hands for play when used in this way. The key is that they  have several position to comfortably sit in and can easily transition between them.

What if my child is older and only sits the “W” way?

First give that child a HUG! Isn’t it fantastic that she was able to find a position that felt safe and allowed her to delve into more complex explorations like reaching for a toy or finger painting. Okay now that you acknowledged her brilliance, let’s see if we can help her discover that same sense of stability and comfort in other positions. Chances are she hasn’t fully integrated the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex (STNR) and is overcompensating.

Whew! That was some serious developmental jargon. So let’s see if the following sounds familiar: maybe she wasn’t comfortable on her belly as an infant or skipped the creeping and crawling phase — bunny hops and bum scoots are popular strategies that keep them moving. A lot of people go through life just fine skipping over these developmental phases. Many of them find ways of integrating later on…but some don’t.

Below are some of the side effects of having a ‘retained STNR’. Remember, it is a reflex, which is neurological. The reflex impacts action, which in turn influences muscle development, which then makes changing a habit more challenging. So the earlier we integrate the easier it is. But we are human and most of us have an incredible capacity for learning, growing and integrating throughout all the phases of our life.

Effects of Retained STNR

• Poor upper and lower body integration
• “Slouching” posture, particularly when sitting or standing
• Poor hand-eye coordination when movements toward and away from the self are required— tendency to be clumsy while eating or difficulty playing catch
• Larger movements that involve upper and lower body coordination (swimming, somersaults, etc.)
• Can’t sit still — legs wrap around the chair or prefers to stand
• Difficulties copying

Integrating Through Play

GET OUT AND CLIMB!

Child Climbing

Get Out & Climb!

A teacher once told me that climbing is the big-kid version of crawling. You get to play with cross-lateral movements (opposite arm and legs), side-bending, extension in reaching up, and so much more. Plus, it’s fun! Many of today’s parks offer a variety of climbing structures — everything form rope ladders to climbing walls. With a variety of climbing structures, comes a vast array of climbing options. Yippie! See each climber encourages or requires a child to engage in specific types of climbing behavior. These can include use of both hands and feet, use of feet and lower body, use of hands and upper body, use of equipment in multiple ways, and balancing the body on moving equipment. The slope of equipment, types of handholds, distance between components and various other features contribute to these different patterns of use. All of this is good news — because when we are trying to shift a habit, adding in variation (with fun) is important.

MOVE LIKE AN ANIMAL

Stephen Rosenholtz’s Move Like the Animals & Monkey Moves DVD Set is a fantastic and fun resource for all kids. I highly recommend ordering a copy. You can also use your imagination and inspire your child to explore the moving like the animals below. You can even make a mask for each animal and enjoy the wonders of Arts and Crafts.

Frisky Frog

Frisky Frog

The Frisky Frog RIBBIT! Knees bent, arms straight is exactly what the STNR is. So if you got it, flaunt it. Squatting down with her arms on the inside of her legs like a little leaping  frog will help to open those hips while honoring the wisdom of the reflex. So clear some space, jump around, and remember that RIBBIT is the sound.

 

Silly Salamander

Silly Salamander

The Silly Salamander Here is a playful opportunity to revisit the creeping phase. Lie on your tummy and lean on your elbows and forearms. (Now it’s time for your singing voice) You bend your leg to the side and look around…..sssssss that’s the sound. Now slide it back down. Bring the other knee up and look around…..sssss that’s the sound. Now slide it back down. See if you slither and slide all the way across the room and back.

Feldenkrais-Move-Like-Tiger

Pouncing Tiger

The Pouncing Tiger One of the way that infants utilize the STNR reflex and begin to integrate it is by rocking on the hands and knees. This weight shifting helps balance the muscular systems of the upper and lower halves of the body and play a role in improving the visual accommodation.  You can encourage this by playing the Pouncing Tiger. The two of you can get down on all fours and ROAR as loud as you can as you shift your weight from knees to your hands. Roar and rock. And rock and roar.

The Curious Cat  Just think about all the things a little kitty-kat does. Meow meow your way onto your side, then curl-up into a ball and try to hide. Roll to-and-fro from side-to-side. Then rest on your back and stretch your hide…reach, reach your paws in all directions. Then meow and roll, meow and roll. Then up on all fours to roam around we go. Shhhhh….what’s that you hear? Round your back and show your fear. Oh and now to your delight, there’s a small ball in your site. So hunt it down, and bat it around with front paw left and front paw right. Ahhh…and now it’s time to curl up again and say good night.

Curious Cat

The Curious Cat


© Buffy Owens 2012, All Rights Reserved (Links are welcome. If you’d like to share my post in your blog or materials, please ask permission.)

Find a Practitioner

Please seek a movement specialist if you don’t see changes, feel that your child is past the point of playful home-intervention, or feel unsure. I would recommend finding a practitioner that will work with your child as a whole, taking into account both the physical body and the innate capacity for learning.

Below is a short list of Methods that I respect. All of which I believe can be a powerful asset in enhancing development. That said, there are also a lot of Physical & Occupational Therapists that do wonderful work with children. So reach out to the practitioners in your area and get a feel for their experience and approach

• The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education: Feldenkrais Guild of North America
• Child’Space: Child’Space Website
• The Anat Baniel Method: Anat’s Website
• Neuro-Physiolgical Psychology: INPP Website (United Kingdom)

Have a practitioner or method you love? Leave it in the comments area for others to see.

_________________

A Quick Note About Comments

I appreciate thoughtful critique and criticism. I also welcome a chance to learn from your knowledge and experience, even if it counters my own. However, if your comment contains name calling or blatant insults then it won’t be published. If you simply argue that W-Sitting is wrong and harmful AND it is obvious that you didn’t read the whole post, your comment won’t be published.

Disagree with something I have written? Then please, put on your critical thinking cap & pick up your articulate writing pen and share your brilliance. Your thoughtful comments will be shared as long as you keep it clean and cordial.

  • Buffy,your wonderful, positive, common sense approach to educating parents is delightful, and effective. Thank you for sharing your insights. I work with infants, children, and teens in Huntsville, AL, and would love to share the link with my clients.

  • Great article, Buffy!

  • Buffy, your brilliance can be an inspiration and resource for us all. Thank you for your post and references.

  • Allison says:

    Buffy, A great article! So helpful for parents to understand how to think about the things they worry about! I think that one of the most important things we do when we work with kids is help their parents realize how much THEY know,and how they can evaluate what they’re hearing from the ‘experts.’

  • Excellent article!

    I work with children with disabilities in Gainesville, FL

    Free Children’s Clinic coming up June 23, 2012
    One complimentary lesson Anat Baniel Method for Children(sm) – I have been working with children since 1998.

    All the best, Josie Davenport

    You can also visit: http://www.josiedavenport.com

  • Something that is not often mentioned in articles about w-sit is that there are variabilities in human structure. A certain amount of torsion is not uncommon in long bones, which affects not only gait patterns but comfortable positions. Thank you for being positive in your approach to positions and movement patterns. Differences in humanity do not necessarily mean that there is dysfunction or abnormality. Each individual is unique, but sometimes there are familial or genetic traits that help us celebrate our diversity.

    • Marcia,

      Thank you for your comment. I agree with you 100%. I actually have a post on variability in human structure in the works. I am thrilled and grateful that you brought it up here. As you said, each individual is unique from our genetics to our experience. Have you red the book “The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain” by Thomas Armstrong? It is a bit dense, but an excellent perspective.

      I just took a quick look at your website and the work you are doing looks wonderful! I am excited to learn more about it.

      -Buffy

  • Crystal Merrill says:

    Thanks so much for this strengths-based article about W-sitting. I look forward to sharing it with many parents, caregivers, and others who work with children 🙂

  • Ilovehorseyrides says:

    My 3 and 5 year old cousins both do w-sitting, too!!!! I have always wondered how it’s not painful to them…

  • Kathy says:

    Love this article, thank you! My daughter sees an OT who uses the Masgutova Method to integrate reflexes…we do all of these exercises! I was surprised I didn’t see this method or any practitioners of this method on your list. Have you heard about it? It seems like a perfect match, but perhaps I’m mistaken.

    Thanks so much!

    • Hi Kathy,

      I have heard of the Masgutova Method! Most of the practitioners I have observed are also Feldenkrais Practitioners or Anat Baniel Practitioners. Honestly, I am not sure why I did not include it as a resource. It is probably more in alignment with the Neuro-Physiolgical Psychology than the Feldenkrais Method, but still a wonderful resource. Thank you for reminding me of it. Does your OT have a website? Perhaps I can include her in the resources?

      Yours in Movement,
      Buffy Owens

  • Thanks for the great article Buffy. When I first started reading it and looked at the title I thought your article would encourage parents to put their babies to sit in the “W” sitting position. So I decided to read the article and offer a dissenting opinion from a pediatric physical therapist. I am glad I took the time to “get the full story”. I also like your style of writing. Way too often many of us professionals take ourselves too seriously. The parent’s of the babies I work with get a kick out of seeing me rolling over and grunting on the ground with my precious preemies. Keep up the good work!

    • Cherrick,

      I am glad that you read through the article and lost the need to offer a dissenting opinion. 🙂

      I see that you are a PT in New Jersey and New York with a focus on early infant and toddler movement and development. How wonderful! I look forward to reading your free guide, exploring your blog, and learning more about what you are up to.

      -Buffy

  • Patrick Siebert says:

    Buffy,
    Grateful to be able to read your thoughts again. It gives me hope knowing there are people like you who show an interest in working with the next generation. I am sure many of the children you work with will never consciously know you helped them. Which supports the quote you gave in the article from Loa Tzu “When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves!’

    I am always amazed when I see people sit this way. From my perspective it looks very uncomfortable and I am amazed when I see someone, usually a woman, sit comfortable in this fashion. I have many hip injuries from sport injuries so there is no way I could ever sit like this, and I am curious. Are there any structural differences in male and female hip joints or pelvic structure that cold account for the differences in my observation that woman find this easier than men. I welcome comments from anyone on this thread to respond to that question.

    Thanks for the beauty, fun and wisdom I get to enjoy from reading your words and visiting your web site.

    • Patrick,

      Thank you for your kind words about working with children…I certainly try.

      Great question about gender differences in hips, pelvis, and ease of sitting this way. I have actually had a few blog posts brewing that speaks to this very topic. They are part of the Do You Have Hip Joint Confusion? (soon to be) series. I will make sure to discuss a bit about the typical gender differences and I will keep you posted.

      Yours in moving & growing,
      Buffy Owens

  • MEENA says:

    Hello Buffy,

    I recently read about the W style sitting and was scared as almost all the articles sounded like i need to be worried.

    This query is not for any child, but rather for me. I’m 30 year old and i absolutely love sitting this way. I get really surprising looks of how i can sit that way. I can sit cross legged as well for a long time, but the W style is the most comfortable i am when i sit on the floor.

    I just want to know, it I should stop or avoid sitting like this? If it will be harmful on the longer run.

    Thanks

    • Hi Meena,

      This is kind of a complex question. For some, sitting like this yields no pain or discomfort or injuries. For others, it might lead to knee injuries or back pain. And there are a lot of contributing factors that impact the outcome. For instance, other movement habits. Do you/they sit in a variety of ways? How do you move through the world? How is the thoracic spine organized? What were all these movement habits and organizations like as a developing child? Etc.

      I’m afraid I can’t just give you a yes or no answer. I can suggest that you go see a Feldenkrais Practitioner, as they would be able to give you a better sense of what you might improve in your overall organization—including finding comfort in other positions so that you expand your sitting repertoire.

  • Jenni says:

    So what do you do if you are an adult that has sat like this their whole life and continues to do so? I find it much more confortable to sit like this than any other way. I do have back, hip, and knee problems. I also have Elhers Danlos Syndrome hypermobility type so I bend in many ways that I shouldn’t. This is the furst time I’ve ever seen or heard that it’s a not a great way to sit…clueless! This was a very interesting read and thank you for not being a downer on your approach to the subject.

    • Jenni,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m hoping to write a post geared towards adults in the near future. Finding other ways to also be comfortable might be a good idea. If possible, try to find a Feldenkrais Practitioner near you (see resources at the end of the article). I think you’ll find that a few private sessions will be quite helpful.

      Also, exploring ways to increase strength and improve your overall organization could also be helpful for your back, hips, and knees. As an adult, you can still crawl and climb (I crawl in some fashion nearly every day). The fitness folks over at GMB have a nice course that offers some great basics (including crawling). It’s the Elements Course and you can find it at https://gmb.io/e/

  • Mark says:

    Well I am 17 years old boy and I feel comfotable sitting in this way.Is anything wrong with that?

    • Hi Mark,
      Totally great if you feel comfortable sitting this way! The big question is are you comfortable sitting in a lot of other ways…and do you? Hopefully reading the above article that was geared towards children gave you some ideas on what’s appropriate for long-term overall healthy movement and where one might consider making some changes.

      As mentioned in some of the other comments…as adults, we can always climb, crawl and even take up a martial art or Feldenrkais practice to help broaden our capacity for daily functional movement.

  • Lea says:

    Hello, I am 27 years old and have been practicing Hanna somatic movement in the past year. I had no idea I had such low muscle tone and hyper mobility because I have held a lot of emotional tension for a very long time. The mobility I’ve gained from releasing contracted muscles has left my spine and joints very unstable. I am now getting migraines and a tugging pain in all of my joints. I was a W-sitter as a child but my parents allowed it. I was also physically and emotionally abused throughout childhood and adolescence, and still hold a lot of emotional tension. I’m wondering if there’s anything specific I can do to correct the effects of the W-sitting as an adult and strengthen and stabilize my joints- everything I read seems to be preventative or corrective for children who are still growing. Am I doomed?

    • Lea,

      There is a lot you can do as an adult. Working one-on-one with a Hanna Somatics practitioner can certainly be beneficial. Hopefully, they will help you to also find stability through your system as simply releasing tension is not the same improving organization for both stability and mobility.

      You could also find a Feldenkrais Practitioner to work with or another practitioner that specializes in Functional Movement. You may also want to seek out a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner to address some the emotional aspect of your tension.

      Specifically, I would suggest crawling and climbing. There are several Awareness Through Movement lessons that explore crawling. But there is also a movement in the fitness world to integrate Crawling & Rolling into the fitness routine. If you don’t have a trainer or practitioner in your area, then I would recommend the Elements course as a starting point: https://gmb.io/e/

  • Preeti says:

    Hi, My kid is 13 months old. He is sitting in w position since starting. He stand on his tip toes with support. Sometimes walk on his knees. I am worried about him

    • Preeti, I’m can tell that you’re concerned for your son. I would recommend finding a practitioner to observe your son in motion. There are resources listed above, however, you could also seek out an Occupational Therapist.

  • Danyelle Linton says:

    Sorry but this sounds like utter bull * to me. Yes it is normal to transition from this to others during normal play but to use as your primary way of sitting…. No. If your child has pain sitting in normal positions like crisscross then I’d be taking my kid to see the Dr straight away.my step daughter tries to sit like this because any other way hurts. She has severe intoeing, her knee points in instead of forward and more that I won’t go into. Were going to the Dr to see if she needs surgery. Her sisters are already showing these signs but not as severe.

    • Hi Danyelle,

      Sorry to hear this sounds like Bull to you. Hopefully, you read the whole post and realized that I didn’t actually tell people to just allow their children to sit like this. Rather, to explore what the underlying cause might be. Due to the limitations of blogging, this post only covered one potential cause.

      I fully agree with you in that if your child, if anyone, has pain sitting in ‘normal positions’ then they should see their doctor or another medical professional. Pain is not normal and is a signal that something is wrong.

      However, I would also suggest that surgery is the last alternative. Obviously, you want to find the cause of the pain and some conditions might require surgery. But I would urge you to also get a second and third opinion from other doctors or therapists who specialize in function — for instance an Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist. I absolutely believe there is a place for surgery…but I’m also aware that most surgeons are trained in surgery and look through the lens of ‘fixing’ with surgery. While a therapist trained in improving function or working with tissue manipulation would be looking through quite a different lens.

      In the end, we all have to choose what feels right for our children and/or ourselves. I wish you and your children the best of luck.

  • Stephanie says:

    Im 17 I’ve always sat in the w shap when sitting on the floor even on the sofa,nobody ever told me it was bad to do so,when I was 15 I realised an peopel told me when I walk my knees touch an the bottom off me legs below my knees go outwards very strange,I went to the doctors an they didn’t realise why I walked like this until my do ott came into the waiting room at another appointment a few weeks later and seen me sitting in the w shap she told me that’s why legs are how they are when I walk that’s what shap they’re grew into an there’s nothing I can do about it now. I get really paranoid when walking in the street thinking people are staring at me for walking funny. So if you see your child sitting like this stop them,I wish someone stopped me.

    • Hi Stephanie,

      I’m sorry to hear that you’re walking makes you uncomfortable. Hopefully, you gathered from the post that I’m not encouraging anyone to “do nothing” if they observe that this is the only way they see their child sitting. However, I do think it’s important to realize that there can be underlying reasons that children, and adults, default to this style of sitting. And to simply not sit like this won’t necessarily change those underlying causes. In fact, some of the compensations that might be made to ‘sit better’ may lead to other issues down the line.

      You’re still young, and although there are critical periods in development (both neurological and structural) some degree of change is always available. The skeletal structure is not set in stone. Your skeleton is a living organ. Everything you do and don’t do impacts the shape of your bones over time.

      So please don’t give up. Seek out an Occupational Therapist, a Feldenkrais Practitioner, a Chiropractor that is also trained in Functional Movement, or another movement modality that focuses on improving function. Things won’t change overnight, and your bone structure may never be ideal…but if you start changing the way you move then I promise many things will change over time (both structurally and neurologically).

  • Kim Miter says:

    I have an almost 3 year old that w-sits, quite extremely. I am concerned about it because I too sat that way as a child. I was a bum shuffler, he was not and he crawled from 7mths to 17mths (as he broke his leg at 15mths trying to walk).
    I now am unable to sit cross legged, my flexibility in my hips is very limited and I have a tilted pelvis from the high curvature in my lower back which caused me all sorts of pain after childbirth!

    I really want more for my son, but I don’t want it to be an issue. I sometimes say ‘legs’ as a cue to change the way he’s sitting. I’m unsure about what to do for him. We are homeschoolers, more specifically unschoolers and so I do trust that my child will learn what he needs as he needs it).

    I am in Australia, so any resources you know of specific to here would be most gratefully received.

  • Betsy says:

    My 6 year old daughter sits like this all the time. While I have always thought it looked uncomfortable, I had never realized it was actually problematic. However, none of the things that you mention about older kids who sit like this (as infants or older children) ring true for her except that she doesn’t sit still particularly well (although, I think her wiggles are within age appropriate norms – it wasn’t indicated as a problem at school). She went through all the crawling phases appropriately and was one of the star players on her soccer team, can imitate movements for dance sequences quite well, etc. What do you recommend?

    • Betsy,

      Please, if you have concerns then please talk to your doctor or a Physical Therapists or seek out another professional in your area. To be honest, I can’t give any recommendations without observing her. But at age six, I can say climbing is a great movement for integration….and I haven’t found a six-year-old yet who doesn’t enjoy it.

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