Serve and return
The quality of adult-child interactions are critical to the well-being and brain development of a baby and young child. When an adult responds to a baby’s babbling, gestures or cries with sensitive eye-contact, words or a hug, this builds and strengthens the neural connections in a baby’s brain. Such interactions are referred to as ‘serve and return’.
Notice the ‘serve’
What is the child’s focus of attention? Are they making a sound or facial expression or looking or pointing at something? That’s a serve.
Return the serve by supporting and encouraging
Acknowledge the serve with a sound, facial expression or by picking up any object the child is pointing to and saying ‘I see!’ or smiling and nodding to let the child know you’re noticing the same thing.
Give it a name
When you return a child’s serve by naming what they are seeing, doing or feeling, you make important language connections in their brain. For example, if a child points to their feet, point to them too and say, ‘Yes, those are your feet!’
Take turns and wait
Every time you return a serve, give the child a chance to respond, through gestures, facial expressions or cries. Waiting is crucial to allow children time to form their responses, especially when they are learning so many new things at once.
Practise endings and beginnings
Children signal when they’re done or ready to move on to a new activity. They might let go of a toy, pick up a new one, or turn to look at something else. When you share a child’s focus, you will notice when they are ready to end the activity and begin something new.
- Adapted from guidance by the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, https://developingchild.harvard.edu