W-Sitting and the Junction of Trust, Respect, and Function

If you’ve been in any BIRTHFIT class, you know that we have a lot of influence from the study of developmental kinesiology – how all humans innately move (without instruction), which has primarily come from DNS (Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization).  Another organization that also encourages innate movement patterns to be respected is RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers). 


Side note: Before our 2017 BIRTHFIT Summit, I reached out to RIE to see if they wanted to be a sponsor for the Summit and they agreed. Jill Getto Lee came and ended up joining us for an awesome discussion that was later shared on the BIRTHFIT Podcast.  It was great to be able to share the message of respectful parenting with so many people! 


There are some amazing resources from RIE, and they match up really well with DNS.  To give you some idea of my background with both, I have taken several DNS courses and use it daily in my practice as well as in my own personal movements; I have studied it for over 10 years.  I have never taken a RIE course in person, but have read Emmi Pikler and Magda Gerber’s works, purchased the available RIE DVDs, and parented with these principles in mind for the past five years.  I have more experience with DNS, but consider myself to be fairly well-versed in RIE principles. I’ve gotten some extra insight into RIE from one of our BIRTHFIT Coaches, Jenna Somich, who is a Professional Nanny, and RIE Foundations student.


As I’ve said, RIE and DNS line up really well for me.  These two approaches have similarities, and don’t differ much in their execution despite the difference of their actual overall intent: DNS is utilized for development/patient care/sports performance primarily and RIE is used in childcare.


  • RIE comes from the place of respecting the individual; they encourage allowing children freedom of movement and as much autonomy as possible, requiring a sense of trust between caregiver/parent and child that children will achieve milestones when they are ready.  


  • DNS comes from the place of recognizing innate movement patterns and allowing those normal movement patterns to play out.  


  • For RIE, we don’t sit children before they can sit because we trust that they’ll sit on their own when they’re ready, and it’s disrespectful to do things to people’s bodies without their express consent. 


  • For DNS, we don’t sit children before they can sit because we’ll disrupt their innate movement patterns and prevent them from developing core stability appropriately. 


I personally use both approaches simultaneously (both in my office and at home) and have found the most benefit from doing so.  With my eldest, he owned each of his movements because it was so important to me that he not have disruption of his innate movement patterns as I’d learned about in DNS.  But it wasn’t until he was nearly one year old that I came across my first exposure to RIE parenting principles through Roslyn Ross.  At that point I realized that I had been neglecting my own needs as an individual and also neglecting my son’s input on what was being done to him (things like picking him up without warning, shushing him when he cried rather than letting him get his big feelings out, and talking about him as if he wasn’t there).  My husband and I immediately changed the way we approached parenting and begin equipping ourselves with more info and resources.  


But there are a few places where RIE and DNS don’t exactly match up.  One of those is tummy time, which I’d like to address in another blog.  The other is the W-sit. If you’re not familiar with that term, a W-sit is with both feet outside either hip, knees flat on the floor so that the legs make a W shape and the hips are in extreme internal rotation.  Most adults do not have the capability of sitting in this way, but lots of kids can and do. 


Is a W-sit okay?

In some of our conversations, Jenna and I have talked about the W-sit.  Jenna knows that in my office and in my home, a W-sit is discouraged (and I’ll tell you in a second what we do instead).  She informed me that lots of RIE educators do not outwardly discourage the W-sit because of their trust in a child’s ability to self-regulate.  This is where I find that there’s a difference between respecting a child in their movements and respecting the child’s movements.  It’s incredibly slight, but not all movement is functional movement.  We can still trust our children and allow for autonomy, but it’s sometimes necessary to prevent poor movements from becoming habit by offering a different option.


When in a W-sit, a child’s knees are in full flexion with simultaneous internal rotation of the femur, tibia, and fibula.  This puts a lot of stress on the knees and hips. (In children under three, their kneecaps aren’t fully formed yet, so it’s not surprising that it’s easier for most children than for most adults to achieve this position.)  In locking the hips into internal rotation and the rest of the lower extremity as well, the child is essentially destabilizing their pelvis and the entire core system. They’re setting themselves up for greater resting knee valgosity (when the knees knock inward together), which puts them at greater risk of ankle, knee, and hip injuries.  They’re also preventing themselves from achieving the benefits of other functional movements: the core stability that comes from a tall oblique sit, the hip mobility that comes from moving through the 90/90 position, and the full body synergy of playing in a deep squat or tripod position. 


What to do if your kid is W-sitting

I find that the W-sit creates stress on the hips, knees, and core, making it one of the worst offenders of positions for prolonged periods of time.  Many people have heard that the W-sit isn’t ideal and a lot of parents, teachers, and caregivers will instead ask for kids to sit “criss-cross applesauce” instead.  


I take this one step further.  When W-sitting, I will have children lie down on their backs and then come to an upright seated position on their own.  An important note here: when left to their own devices, children don’t do sit-ups, which is a learned movement and not a functional way to get up.  Instead, children will roll to their side and push themselves up to a seated position.  


By going this extra step and not just having the child correct their leg position, they are gaining functional movement patterns to offset the dysfunctional pattern they just played out in getting to a W-sit.  I’ve found this to be much more beneficial in supporting their natural development while continuing to respect them and their body autonomy. 


In an ideal world, if your child is W-sitting, then they’re being cared for by providers who recognize the implications of this (and other dysfunctional movement patterns), such as a chiropractor or PT trained in DNS.  If you’re local to Raleigh, we’d love to see you in our office.  


For me, respectful parenting extends to respecting the body’s functional development, which is why I prefer to intervene in a W-sit rather than let it play out and potentially create instability and compensation later in life. 


Lindsay Mumma, DC



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