General Question

gussnarp's avatar

Should little kids sit with their legs splayed back in a "W"?

Asked by gussnarp (2835points) October 15th, 2009

You know how babies first start to sit on their own, they bend their knees so their feet are behind them, but they aren’t sitting on their legs, their legs are sort of next to their bodies. My 3 year old still sits this way and his preschool teacher said sometimes this causes problems with their gate and that we might want to encourage him to sit with his legs in front of him. I suppose I’ll ask our pediatrician about it, but we haven’t seen any problems in his movement, has anyone heard of this? Is it a problem with some evidence behind it, or just the latest thing to worry about?

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44 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

If I were you I’d relax until you saw changes in your kid’s gait. People don’t generally make themselves deliberately uncomfortable, and certain teachers love to interfere with any behavior that doesn’t exactly fit the norm.

sakura's avatar

I wouldn’t worry too much, unless it is causing him problems! It may cause the circulation in his legs to be a little poor, but I’m no doctor.

As a teacher, I can see why they want the child to sit on the bottom, rather than knees, as it can cause other children to not be able to see over top and it limits fidgeting!

However each to their own I suppose, maybe mention this next time you are due a check up?

MissAusten's avatar

I’ve always heard it isn’t good for their hips to sit like that too much. My younger brother started to have problems with his knees and hips, and the doctor told my mom it was because he always sat with his legs in that W position. This is one reason why preschool teachers are big on the “criss cross applesauce” way of sitting (or Indian style as we called in the pre-PC days).

You might find this article helpful. This one has a lot of information as well. It seems there are reasons to discourage that particular sitting posture, but I doubt that a kid who once in a while sits that way is going to have problems.

When I see my own kids sit like that, I just remind them “feet in front.”

gussnarp's avatar

@pdworkin I’m pretty unconcerned with it at this point. Seems to me that the way we’re all “supposed” to sit as adults in Western culture isn’t particularly good for us. I also don’t think he sits still long enough for any position to be a problem.

@sakura He’s on his bottom, his legs are next to him, so no height difference.

@MissAusten I never could sit cross legged, even as a kid it was painful to me. Lord I hated being made to sit cross legged. I’ll look at the articles, thanks.

AstroChuck's avatar

When I was young I often would enter a room by running and jumping up, then landing on the ground with my legs to my side. It was my favorite way to sit and I did it for years. Today my gait is just fine. I woundnt worry about it.

gussnarp's avatar

@MissAusten Thanks again for the articles, but I’ve got to say they’re not selling me on this. There’s no mention of any scientific studies, and the problems they suggest are non-existent in my child. They mention trunk rotation and cross body movement not being possible while w-sitting, and I can tell you that my child can rotate and reach an object partially behind him while w-sitting.

DarkScribe's avatar

Why not – Madonna does it all the time.

MissAusten's avatar

@gussnarp My kids sit like that from time to time, and they don’t have any problems either. Mostly likely your son just doesn’t spend enough time in that position to have any negative side effects. I’m sure the problem happens when a kid sits like that for an excessive amount of time. Like I said, it did cause problems for my brother when he was about three or four years old. He’s 31 now, so this was many years ago.

As for scientific studies, nothing much came up on a quick google search. It would be interesting to know where and how the connection was made between W sitting and other problems. Maybe the doctor would have some insight for you. All kids are different, and just because your son isn’t hampered by sitting like that doesn’t mean that other kids won’t be, or won’t spend so much time in that position that they do end up with some problems.

Like I said, I doubt a kid who sits like that once in a while will have problems. It’s probably not something to worry about, but to just be aware of.

gussnarp's avatar

@MissAusten After looking at your articles I did some more searching on the topic as well (I failed at searching for it before asking this question because I didn’t know it was called “w-sitting”). All the articles about it seemed to be sourced on physical therapists, this makes sense since they should know what causes problems right? But physical therapists only see kids with problems. Those kids with problems w-sit, therefore w-sitting causes problems. Except that pretty much all kids naturally w-sit, or so it seems. Maybe the PTs are seeing problem with it because they’re only looking at kids with problems to begin with. I think it’s likely that if a kid has certain problems, then w-sitting can be an issue, but otherwise it may not be. We’ll keep an eye on it. they’re encouraging him to sit differently at day care, but I think I’ll wait and see and ask the pediatrician at the next appointment if I see an issue, for now.

Val123's avatar

@pdworkin You said, “certain teachers love to interfere with any behavior that doesn’t exactly fit the norm.”—Unfortunately that is so right. Two of my kids write with a left hand slant, although they are right handed. Two of their teachers tried to “correct” this. I’m like, “Why?? It looks a bit awkward to me (and I wonder why they picked that up) but I can read what they write, so who cares?”

dpworkin's avatar

Your two children are called “Right-Handed Inverters”, it is an inherited trait that is intermingled with hemispheric dominance, and is not correctable by meddling teachers.

Val123's avatar

@pdworkin :) Well, right handed people are left sphere dominate, so what are right handed people that right with a left hand slant, but the letters lean to the right like they’re “supposed” to? Also, my mom swears I was left handed, but my dad changed me….

dpworkin's avatar

Not all right handers are left hemisphere dominant, as demonstrated by your children. Hemispherical dominance is not set in stone, and in many cases neither hemisphere dominates.

gussnarp's avatar

I’m right handed, but left-eye dominant, apparently a fairly unusual trait. Don’t know what it says about my hemisphere dominance. Made it really hard to learn to shoot, because everyone assumes you should shoot right handed, but I aim better with my left eye.

Val123's avatar

@gussnarp Me too. The shooting thing came to mind right away. I finally realized that instinctively I was trying to sight with my left eye, while shooting with my right which kind of laid me over on the rifle…I don’t shoot enough (shooting gallerys at the fair) to bother correcting it, or learning to shoot left handed, but yeah. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Same thing with shooting free throws. I kept want to put my my left foot forward…

gussnarp's avatar

@Val123 I should have realized it sooner, I could barely close my left eye by itself, but it was easy for me to close my right eye alone. My body clearly knew what it needed to be doing.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@AstroChuck but how many times did you land on your head; as that might explain some things, like the sniffing under your watch as well as a few others AC quirks.

wildpotato's avatar

I have two friends who sit like this. They are in their mid and late 20’s. My closer friend has told me that it’s a result of having been severly neglected as a young child, before he was adopted by his parents. But I’m not sure exactly how the one thing relates to the other, especially after reading these posts here. You guys are obviously not neglectful parents, so maybe there is no connection after all. But it’s what came to mind when I read your question, so I thought I’d just throw that out there.

Cupcake's avatar

If you see severe intoing or knee rotation, you may want to consult with the pediatrician. As long as your child can participate in developmentally-appropriate activities and is sitting comfortably… I would ignore the teacher’s advice. If your 3 year old becomes uncomfortable sitting in this position, then the preferred sitting position will probably change naturally.

I found a couple references in medical journals (that probably have nothing to do with your child… just FYI references about “W” sitting):

Lower-extremity Surgery for Children with Cerebral Palsy: physical therapy management from the Journal of Physical Therapy (1992) refers to “W” sitting as a “stable and functional posture” and, in this specific case, may be due to “compensation for increased extensor tone across the pelvis and hips, in which the legs are maintained in a flexed position by the weight of the body.”

Common Lower Extremity Problems in Children from Pediatrics in Review (2004):

Intoeing has three possible locations of origin: the foot, between the knee and the ankle, and between the hip and the knee.

Medial femoral torsion (MFT) (sometimes known as femoral anteversion) is a twist in the femur between the hip and the knee. It is the most common cause of intoeing in children older than 3 years of age. The orthopedic literature generally distinguishes between “femoral anteversion,” which is the normal alignment of the proximal femur vis-à-vis the distal femur, and “medial femoral torsion,” which is pathologic degrees of femoral anteversion. Babies are born with increased femoral anteversion relative to adults (40 degrees versus 10 degrees), and they are born with lateral external rotation contractures that mask that difference. The natal anteversion decreases steadily by about 1.5 degrees per year. In contrast, most children who have clinically evident MFT have version angles increased to about 60 degrees between the ages of 4 and 6 years.

Children who have MFT typically sit in what is known as the “W” position (Fig. 3). The ability to sit comfortably in a “W” position is associated with both MFT and ligamentous laxity, an autosomal dominant variant of normal that is not inherently pathologic, but contributes to several musculoskeletal disorders in children and adults. Animal and experimental models have shown that increased loading of the femur in torsion (as occurs while sitting in the W position) can cause increased femoral version. This is the reason that some orthopedists now consider MFT to be an acquired rotational deformity and not simply a manifestation or persistence of an inherited extreme of natal femoral anteversion.

Generally, MFT resolves without intervention. Some orthopedists recommend that the parents discourage sitting in the “W” position, although the importance of doing so is controversial. The deformity continues to correct very slowly, until the age of 8 to 10 years.
The fact of the matter is that your child is comfortable with their manner of sitting. I would likely mention to the pediatrician (the next time we were in the office, not meeting specifically for this purpose) that the teacher is concerned about potential long-term consequences about “W” sitting… and leave it at that. Your pediatrician will know best.

ccrow's avatar

@gussnarp , @Val123- I have this too, my eye doc calls it ‘cross-dominance’.

gussnarp's avatar

@Val123, @ccrow Darn, I thought I was special.

Val123's avatar

@ccrow Wow. Is that anything like cross dressing? I, personally, think this may be a good thing. It may be that we don’t rely to heavily on one side of our brain than the other, but utilize them equally. BTW, are you and @gussnarp athletically inclined? Just curious

gussnarp's avatar

@Cupcake This sounds like what I suspected, that certain problems are associated with W-sitting, partly due to them making w-sitting more comfortable and stable, and perhaps partly exacerbated by w-sitting, but w-sitting alone does not likely have a causal relationship with these problems.

Interesting that it is associated with CP, my wife’s brother has CP and she mentioned that he always sat that way.

gussnarp's avatar

@Val123 I am anything but athletically inclined. As a child I was pretty much abysmal at all sports. Still am, though I can now enjoy things even though I am not good at them.

Val123's avatar

When I was born I had a congenital hip defect. The ball of the hip hadn’t formed and always slipped out of the socket. The Drs caught it when I was six months old, and just started to pull myself up on furniture and stuff. The cure was to slap me in a pillow splint for six months! I had to wear these special shoes with a bar in between them, and sit with a pillow spreading my knees out, I don’t know how many hours a day. Everyday all day for six months, I guess. This gave enough time for the ball to grow, I guess.

trailsillustrated's avatar

I have ‘w’ sat all my life and still do, so does my twin brother. We don’t have cp, and no joint problems. when we were kids people always thought is was really wierd to sit that way.

christine215's avatar

I was a W sitter too, no problems here.

my daughter was a ‘tippy toe’ walker and her preschool teacher wanted me to take her to an orthopedic specialist for it… (yeah, right!) she grew out of it and is also just fine

@pdworkin so much lurve to you today for your answers here! Very informative and practical! tx!

Darwin's avatar

My brother, my sister, and I all sat like that when we were kids. Yes, our family does have a tendency towards relaxed ligaments (when severe as it is in several cousins we call it the “bendy people” gene), but none of us have problems with our gaits or our hips. And we have all been walking for more than 50 years.

As long as your kid is comfortable and can walk just fine, I wouldn’t worry about it at all.

Val123's avatar

You know, thinking about it,it’s no more “dangerous” than a kid who can easily grab their feet, like in sit ups, or sit cross legged. It’s all about the muscles that you’re stretching out.

Darwin's avatar

@gussnarp – A friend of mine is left-handed in everything except shooting a gun. She just had surgery on her left shoulder so she is having great difficulty with day-to-day living. However, her husband has locked up her gun for now because she is getting really grumpy and she is a good shot.

ShanEnri's avatar

I’ve heard that it’s not good for their knees. My daughter used to sit like that and her dance teacher told us to try to get her to sit in another position. We didn’t and now my daughter (she’s 18) has arthritis in her legs. I don’t know if it’s because of sitting that way or not, but maybe something to think about!?

SpatzieLover's avatar

It is common amongst small children and should be corrected. This is also known as the “reverse tailor sitting position or “M sitting and is a sign of under developed thigh muscles.

You could try doing a “fun” new type of sitting with your son. Just do Criss-Cross Applesauce. My son does this at dance class. Maybe if you sign your son up for a toddler movement class you could help him develop those weak muscles, too.

Val123's avatar

Uh….talk to your doctor.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Val123 Yep! That’s the best idea. AND, parents should know, the doc may prescribe occupational therapy. This can be a sign/symptom of CP (as stated above), autism, or a signal that the young child’s muscles are not developing at age appropriate levels.

Val123's avatar

@SpatzieLover I was thinking it was no big deal, but after what you said I changed my mind!

SpatzieLover's avatar

@Val123 It’s actually worse if the kid then moves forward in this position. Some kids kinda crawl in this position which damages the hips and femurs.

Val123's avatar

@SpatzieLover Sounds like it would hurt!

YARNLADY's avatar

My grandson sat like that, and it turned out he has a connective tissue disorder. There were other signs throughout his childhood, but his mother didn’t recognize them, and he wasn’t diagnosed until he was 17. It is very rare, so probably not applicable in your child, but I suggest you have your pediatrician conduct a full examination.

DarkScribe's avatar

I really don’t understand the fuss. I will sit like that simply for comfort, it is a relaxed way to sit if you don’t have furniture to sit on. I also do it when shooting macro photography and need to spend long periods close to a camera viewfinder that is low to the ground. My wife will even sit on a couch in that position while watching TV. She says it makes her keep her spine erect.

Why is there supposedly something wrong or negative about it? It is a common yoga position – isn’t yoga supposed to be healthy?

SpatzieLover's avatar

@DarkScribe No, this is not a yoga position. This is not child’s pose.

DarkScribe's avatar

@SpatzieLover No, this is not a yoga position.

It is a Yoga position, maybe not common to you. It was one of the stretching/warm-up positions that I was taught twenty-plus years ago, it is currently on the front cover of my wife’s Yoga training DVDs, and I have often seen it in the Gyms that also teach Yoga. A reverse “W” sitting flat, buttocks on floor with knees forward and ankles flat to floor behind the buttocks. It is a pleasant and relaxed way to sit.

Darwin's avatar

All I can say is that my brother, my sister and I all sat that way, and to date none of us have had any of the problems cited above. It was perfectly comfortable at the time. We all grew up to be runners so our thigh muscles were just fine, and none of us have any problems with our hip joints.

AstroChuck's avatar

@DarkScribe- You said buttocks. Hee hee.

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