When you’re a parent, you learn a lot in those first few years along with your child. Of course, there’s the basics: ABCs, 123s, shapes, and colors galore. You’ve probably committed hundreds of nursery rhymes and short poems to memory. And then there’s the matter of sitting criss-cross applesauce during story time.
Have you noticed your little one sitting with their legs in a W-shaped position? If not, you may start to now — it’s a normal position to move into, especially while playing on the floor. It’s called W-sitting.
You may have heard this position is good, bad, or even ugly when it comes to hip and leg development. Here’s what you need to know about W-sitting, as well as what you should ask your doctor if you’re concerned.
Simply put, W-sitting is a position when a child has their knees out in front of them, but their ankles and feet are to either side of their hips, creating that classic W shape. It looks uncomfortable, doesn’t it? But children actually have more internal hip rotation and overall range of motion than adults, so it’s likely not causing any pain.
Sitting in this position is actually quite common and it’s part of typical development. Children may sit in the W position because it gives them a wide base of support during play and other activities. In this position, they don’t need to use their core muscles as much to sit upright.
That said, you may have read or heard concerns about W-sitting. That’s likely because if a child sits in this position too frequently, it may cause or indicate issues with gross and fine motor development. Occasionally, it may even be a sign of another developmental issue that needs attention.
On its own, W-sitting is actually not something you need to be too concerned about.
The International Hip Dysplasia Institute shares that this sitting position is often observed around age 3, but then naturally fades out of routine as children grow. If your child only sits in this position occasionally, it’s probably just a comfortable way to play or relax.
However, many physical and occupational therapists do share concerns about W-sitting. If you consistently see your child favoring this position, consider the following.
Trunk and leg weakness
W-sitting may be your child’s go-to because their legs or trunk aren’t strong enough to keep them stable during play. When sitting with the legs in a W, the legs then take the brunt of the muscle work and create a lower center of gravity with a wider base to support their movement. In turn, the trunk doesn’t move as much in this position, which helps even more with balance.
Look out for other signs of poor muscle tone, like frequent falling or clumsiness, a delay in gross motor skills, and overall poor posture.
Has your child been diagnosed with a congenital or developmental hip issue, like hip dysplasia? If your child has hip dysplasia, W-sitting is a position you’ll want to discourage.
Sitting with the legs in this way can increase the chances that they’ll dislocate their hips. How? W-sitting internally rotates the hips to the point that it may push them out of joint if there are existing joint issues.
Look out for signs of hip pain, even if your child hasn’t been formally diagnosed with hip dysplasia. Sometimes this condition is difficult to detect until children are a bit older and complain of discomfort.
Developing orthopedic issues
Sitting in the W-position too often may create tight muscles in the legs and hips. If the muscles are tight, they may inhibit normal motion, affecting your child’s developing coordination and balance. The muscles that are affected include the hamstrings, hip adductors, and the Achilles tendon.
Look out for changes in your child’s gait, like walking pigeon-toed or with the feet turned in. This can happen when these muscles are tight.
Bilateral coordination issues
W-sitting may be a sign that your child is avoiding coordination and/or independent movement on the right and left sides of the body. Sitting in the W-position limits motion of the trunk and discourages reaching across the body.
Instead, your child may, for example, reach for things to the right of their body with only the right hand and things to the left of their body with only the left hand.
Look out for a delay in hand dominance or dexterity, fine motor delays (cutting paper with scissors, tying shoelaces), and gross motor delays (running, skipping, jumping), and other issues with coordination of the right and left sides of the body.
W-sitting may also be a problem if your child has increased muscle tone or certain neurological conditions, like cerebral palsy. In these cases, W-sitting may make muscles tighter and — over time — sitting in other positions may become difficult.
If your child continues to sit in the W-position, their overall development may be impacted. For example, it may become hard to move the legs apart and twist the hips in an outward motion.
Look out for trouble moving to other sitting positions, particularly if your child has diagnosed neurological conditions or delays that lead to muscle tone issues.
Related: What is cerebral palsy?
If you only see your child sitting in the W-position from time to time, you may not need to correct them. Pay attention to see if they shift themself out of the position easily and that they change positions throughout play.
Encourage your child to try a variety of sitting positions, such as these from British Columbia’s Quesnel & District Child Development Centre:
- criss-cross sitting (try to alternate which leg is on top)
- tailor-sitting (both legs bent with feet touching)
- side-sitting (knees bent, both feet on same side of body)
- long-sitting (legs straight out in front)
Other tips from Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children:
- Instead of saying, “Fix your legs!” try telling your child to, “Move into criss-cross legs so you can build strong muscles.” Keep the spin positive. For younger children, you may even just tickle or hug to get them to shimmy into a new position.
- Consider offering different seating options, like beanbag chairs or small step stools. Alternatives will encourage your child to move around often and help balance the strain on the legs.
- Get your child moving in other ways to encourage development. Things like yoga, the game Twister, and playground play (balance beam, climbing slides, etc.) are all good options.
Should I call my doctor?
Contact your child’s pediatrician if you notice your child’s W-sitting is in combination with other signs or symptoms, like low muscle tone, limited mobility, lack of balance, delays in fine motor skills, pain, or if there is hip dysplasia.
Frequently sitting in this position can affect development, cause injury, or occasionally be a sign of other issues that need to be addressed.
While it looks uncomfortable, W-sitting is often a part of normal development. Provided your child is moving easily to and from this position into other positions, you likely have little reason for concern.
If you do notice that your child favors this position, encourage them to sit in other ways that help facilitate balanced development. If you have other concerns or notice additional symptoms along with W-sitting, contact your doctor.