Does your child "W" Sit?
"W" sitting is a position where a child's bottom is sitting on the floor and their legs are bent at the knee and fanned out towards the back, forming the shape of a W. While "W" sitting, major muscle groups are placed in shortened positions, which causes the muscles to tighten and can lead to a permanent shortening of the muscles, effecting coordination, balance and development of motor skills.
"W" sitting is harmful to normal postural development as it does not allow for the engagement of core muscles (abdominals and back), which keep us upright. This can ultimately cause a delay in postural muscle development and in gaining the core stability needed to keep an upright posture, eventually causing a delay in gross motor skills, coordination and and adequate balance reactions.
This type of sitting widens the child's base of support, which may make them feel more stable, but results in less need for trunk rotation, weight shifting, changing into other seated positions, postural control and stability as they are playing. Without trunk rotation, the child will not develop important "midline crossing" movements (very important for writing), which help develop the separation of the two sides of the body for bilateral coordination needed to further refine motor skills and establish hand-dominance.
In addition, "W" sitting places stress on the hip, knee and ankle joints as they are pushed to their end-range, which can cause decreased joint integrity and laxity within the joint capsules.
What is the solution?
Help your child or student choose an alternate functional seated position, like a "Taylor" /"Criss-cross," "long-sit" (with feet out in front) or a "side sit" type position, trying to catch them before they move into the "W" sit. Consistent encouragement is key, as these alternate sitting postures will help engage core stability muscles, having a positive result on the growth development of foundational skills.
Hold the child's knees and feet together on the floor while kneeling. It will be impossible for them to get into a "w" sit from there, forcing them to either sit back onto their feet or move into a side sit (encourage them to sit on both right and left sides equally).
Prone and side-lying positions can be used for children who are unable to support themselves in the alternate sitting positions described above. As their muscles get stronger in these positions, they can try "Taylor"/"Criss-cross" or side sitting with a support behind them, like a couch until they are strong enough to do these on their own.
It is very important to help your child develop core-strength, essential for the progression of other developmental skills. Strengthening the abdominals, back and pelvis are key to overall core stability.
Here are some great core-strengthening exercise ideas:
PLANKS - Have your child lay on their stomach on the floor with hands flat on the floor at shoulder level and toes on the floor. Have them push up on their hands to straighten their arms and lift their whole body all the way to their toes off of the floor. Have your child hold the plank position on their forearms with elbows at 90 degrees instead of their hands. If holding the whole body off of the floor is too much, try dropping the knees to the floor for support. While in that position, have them lift an arm straight out in front and hold it there. Now do the opposite arm and leg. See how long they are able to hold this position.
BRIDGING - Have your child lay on his back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Have them push hard through their heels to raise their bottom up off the floor, keeping their head and shoulders on the ground. Have them see how long they are able to hold it.Have the child lift and lower slowly and with control. Place a stuffed animal between the child’s knees and have them squeeze while bridging. Once they get strong with those, have your child place his feet on a small ball or other unstable surface and try to maintain stability while bridging.
WHEELBARROW - Have your child lay on with their stomach on the floor. While you hold their knees (easier) or ankles (bit more of a challenge), have them walk their hands forward 10 steps and backward 10 steps. Have them walk forward to a toy and and put it in a bucket with one hand. Time them to see how long can they hold the position.
SUPERMANS - Have your child lay on their stomach and try to lift their arms up off of the floor so that their upper chest comes up too. Then have them lift their legs, then their arms. Next have them try both arms and legs at the same time. Holding a ball between their hands or feet while performing this exercise will make this more challenging. Place an item on the child’s back and see if they can do the exercise while keeping it from falling.
KNOCK ME OVER - This exercise can be done with smaller children on your lap, or bigger ones sitting on a therapy ball or with them kneeling on both knees. The goal is for them to maintain enough stability through their trunk to stay upright. If you have a child on your lap, sit on a couch or bed for a soft landing surface. Bounce them up and down a few times and then try to knock them over. At first, they will most likely fall. Gradually increase the pressure it takes to knock them down. Having them get back up is part of the exercise too. Try to decrease the amount of assistance it takes to get them back to a sitting position.
Catch - Have the child in a tall kneeling position on the floor and play catch with balls of varying sizes and weights. The heavier the ball, the bigger the challenge to the core. Throw at different heights and to different sides of their body.
Ball Bouncing - Simply sitting and bouncing on a therapy ball is a great core workout by itself.
Swimming, climbing UP a slide, crab walking, playing tug-of-war and swinging are a few more ideas that will help build core stability.