Serve and Return

What is it?

Serve and return works like a game of tennis or volleyball between child and parent and/or caregiver. The child “serves” by reaching out for interaction—with eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, babbling, or touch. A responsive parent/caregiver will “return the serve” by speaking back, playing peekaboo, or sharing a toy or a laugh

The benefits?

Serve and return interactions shapes your babies brain. When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the baby’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.

Serve and return interactions will make those daily interactions fun and meaningful. By making time to create these small moments during the day to do serve and return, you build up the foundation for children’s lifelong learning, behaviour, and health—and their skills for facing life’s challenges.

What happens if a child does not get it?

The constant absence of serve and return interaction is detrimental for healthy development: not only does the brain not receive the positive stimulation it needs, but the body’s stress response is activated, flooding the developing brain with potentially harmful stress hormones. Cortisol is one of these and this can lead to developmental problems later in life, as well as stress related diseases.

Can this be reversed?

Nurturing touch appears to protect babies from harmful stress, and researchers think they know why.

Affectionate contact triggers the release of several stress-busting chemicals in the brain, including oxytocin (the so-called “love hormone”) and endogenous opioids (natural painkillers).

What can I do to combat this?

To combat this, the best way we can set up our babies/children for a great start in life is to make sure that there is “serve and return”. Constant communication, whether this is talking and singing, touch, laughing and eye contact are great ways to do this. Human touch  is so very important. It has so many meanings behind a simple hand on your shoulder or back. From the day we are born, we are wired for human touch. Human touch creates trust, especially between babies and children and their parents and caregivers. It is a foundational element of human development and culture, learning and relationships.