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Watch young kids play and you’ll see many of them “W sitting,” or resting their bottom between their feet, legs to either side. It may seem like an impressive feat if you’ve ever done hero pose in yoga, a similar position that makes many adults groan.
Search for “W sitting” online and you’ll find ominous articles warning parents against letting children sit this way. A number of them caution about health problems ahead and advise nudging kids out of the W and into the “criss-cross applesauce” position.
What should you do?
We asked two experts to weigh in: Dr. Eduardo Novais, an orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children's Hospital; and Dr. Jennifer Weiss, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles.
Why do kids sit like this?
One reason is that it’s common for children to be born with their thighbones turned in, a condition known as femoral anteversion. It self-corrects for most kids as they grow, but until their bodies change, it may be more natural for them to sit in a W.
“You have more internal (hip) rotation as a child, and then W sitting is sometimes more comfortable,” Novais said.
When your leg has an internal twist to it, it’s actually less comfortable to sit in a “criss-cross applesauce” fashion, Weiss added. Parents may find it hard to understand because their adult anatomy is different.
Another reason kids like the W pose is that it’s a more stable sitting position. They can rotate their trunk, reach out and grab things more easily, Novais said.
At what age is a child most likely to sit in a W position?
Usually between 4 to 6, but you’ll also see it with younger and older kids, Novais said. Femoral anteversion — or that internal rotation of the thighbone — tends to decrease after age 8.
“If you walk into a preschool classroom, most of the kids, if they’re given a choice, will sit like that,” Weiss noted.
Should you worry if you see your child W sitting?
“In my opinion, absolutely not,” Weiss said. “I have no problem with a child W sitting. They’re not going to change the shape of their legs. They’re not going to change their alignment by sitting like that. They’re just responding to their natural anatomy.”
If your child wants to sit in a W position, it means there’s no excessive stress on his joints, muscles or knees because kids know how to avoid pain in their bodies, she added.
A child cannot dislocate his hip by sitting this way, both doctors said. There’s no evidence it’s bad for core stability or will cause future orthopedic problems, they noted.
It’s common for normal, healthy kids to sit in a W position, but doctors also see also see W sitting in kids who have other disorders, Novais said.
When should you look into it further?
If, in addition to W sitting, you see your child develop a limp, a weakness in the lower extremities, or a pigeon-toed gait with the feet very abnormally facing in towards the mid-line when walking or running, that requires more attention, Novais said.
Hip dysplasia is sometimes associated with the excessive turning in of the thighbone, he noted. An X-ray will reveal if the hip is developing normally.
Kids who have low muscle tone, or hypotonia, may also like to sit in a W position because it increases their balance, he added.
Should you nudge your child out of W sitting and into 'criss-cross applesauce?'
“In my opinion, absolutely not,” Weiss said. “Pick different battles. There are plenty of other things to worry about with your children of that age.”