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Children who fidget in class or who lose concentration when doing homework, probably don’t know how to sit correctly

“Sit up, keep still”. I’m sure these are words that teachers, and quite a few parents, have uttered more than once. But getting children to sit correctly, and still, isn’t quite as straightforward.

Read our article on how to help your child achieve perfect posture.

Children who don’t have a strong trunk, or who have low muscle tone, may struggle to sit correctly, says Joburg-based physiotherapist Kim Wilson. Low tone can lead to W-sitting, when children sit with their legs behind them in the shape of a “W”. Children often prefer to sit this way as it’s a stable and supportive position. But, because they aren’t activating their muscles it can lead to orthopaedic problems. The same can be said for sitting with their legs sticking out in front. These positions may also encourage children to slouch.

Find out more about using the right desk and chair.

How should they sit?

  • Sitting cross-legged, or ring-sitting, where the legs are out in front, but form a circle, are better options. Wilson notes that when children get fatigued in these positions, they will start to slouch. Maybe try taking a break once in a while, and get children to move around.
  • When sitting in a chair, your child’s knees and the pelvis should be at 90 degrees and their feet should be flat on the floor.
  • The height of the table is also important, says Wilson. Their elbows need to rest on the table and their shoulders shouldn’t be sticking up.
  • Wilson says she places a wedge underneath children who slouch. This pushes the pelvis forward, helping them sit more upright.

Take a seat in the right chair

Make sure you choose the right chair to help them sit comfortably.

  • Chairs need to be the right height. Children’s feet should be flat on the floor and not dangling off the chair.
  • Their back needs to be supported.
  • Children need to be able to sit with their rears flush against the chair.

Wilson notes that sitting properly has a lot to do with muscle tone. If children have low tone, they will struggle to sit properly and to sit still. If you’re worried, take note of how your child is sitting and speak to a physiotherapist about exercises you can do. Once children are sitting correctly, they should find it easier to fidget less and concentrate more on their work. They will also have better fine motor control, resulting in better handwriting. As their backs will be straighter, their lungs will have more room for oxygen, so they will be breathing better and getting more oxygen to their brains. But none of us, and especially not children, were designed to sit still for extended periods. So make sure they move around for 30 seconds after every 30 minutes seated, to stretch their muscles.

Tamlyn Vincent