Nancy Sokol Green
Why Kids Sit in a W
We may not think how our kids sit on the floor (especially if we’re grateful that they’re even sitting at all) could tell us something about their neurological profile or that such positioning could possibly harm them.
Yet, sitting in a W formation—when kids sit on their bums with their knees bent and their feet out to either side of their hips—is a neurological red flag, and it’s a position that should be discouraged.
So why do kids even adopt this odd way of sitting?
First, it provides trunk and hip stability (i.e., creates a wide base) which, in turn, makes it easier to balance when reaching out for a toy. What can that tell us? Well, kids who need this extra support may not be receiving good vestibular and proprioceptive feedback since these senses are directly related to automatic balance.
However, there’s a price to pay for this compensation. Since there’s no trunk rotation when sitting this way, such kids avoid crossing their midline when reaching for a toy. Yet midline crossing is a developmental milestone for more advanced motor skills, reading, and writing.
It’s also likely that these kids have a retained symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR). This primitive reflex is supposed to be integrated by the time the child is 9-to 11-months-old.
Yet if the STNR isn’t inhibited during the first year of life, it causes problems later on, such as poor posture, a tendency to slump when sitting at a table, clumsiness, attention difficulties, challenges with swimming, problems doing a somersault—and a preference to sit in a W formation.
Okay, suddenly what seemed like an innocuous sitting position now sounds ominous. Not really. Information is always good if we use it to move forward.
In this case, such awareness may now prompt us to encourage kids to sit in different positions—legs to the side, straight out in front, or crossed. If such sitting positions are too hard for the child, we can then advocate play time at a kid's table (it’s almost impossible to sit in a W in a chair).
But more importantly, we can use this information to explore more fully whether there are additional indicators of underdeveloped lower centers of the brain. There’s nothing like getting to the “root” of the problem rather than merely addressing a symptom.
So in that sense, sitting in a W can be a blessing.