Children, Youth, Families & Schools, Nebraska Center for Research on


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Dev Sci. 2023 May ; 26(3): e13318. doi:10.1111/desc.13318.


HHS Public Access.


The development of independent sitting changes everyday opportunities for learning and has cascading effects on cognitive and language development. Prior to independent sitting, infants experience the sitting position with physical support from caregivers. Why does supported sitting not provide the same input for learning that is experienced in independent sitting? This question is especially relevant for infants with gross motor delay, who require support in sitting for many months after typically developing infants sit independently. We observed infants with typical development (n = 34, ages 4–7 months) and infants with gross motor delay (n = 128, ages 7–16 months) in early stages of sitting development, and their caregivers, in a dyadic play observation. We predicted that infants who required caregiver support for sitting would spend more time facing away from the caregiver and less time contacting objects than infants who could sit independently. We also predicted that caregivers of supported sitters would spend less time contacting objects because their hands would be full supporting their infants. Our first two hypotheses were confirmed; however, caregivers spent surprisingly little time using both hands to provide support, and caregivers of supported sitters spent more time contacting objects than caregivers of independent sitters. Similar patterns were seen in the group of typically developing infants and the infants with motor delay. Our findings suggest that independent sitting and supported sitting provide qualitatively distinct experiences with different implications for social interaction and learning opportunities.