‘Serve and Return’ – Play it well with your children to prep them up for the game of life!

I was recently watching my 12 years old son playing a game of lawn tennis with his coach. I enjoyed the ‘serve’ and ‘return’ as the players hit the ball back and forth. The match was intense and fun to watch as both the players were consistently responding to each other.

There is another ‘serve and return’ interaction parents experience with kids, especially when kids are  young. Serve and return interactions essentially mean being responsive to your child; they are simple initially and become increasingly complex over time.  A mother holding her baby close and cooing to her while enjoying baby’s response is a sight to behold. Well, it is not only enjoyable, “serve and return” is also critical for child’s healthy development as children learn through social and emotional interactions. These interactions create and strengthen neural connections between all of the different areas of the baby’s brain laying a foundation for more complex skills such as emotional intelligence. When you are aware and responsive to your child’s needs and the signals “served” by your baby, the “return” creates a loving and supportive environment that’s rich in emotional and cognitive interactions.

If a baby serves up a bid for attention (like a coo), appropriate return would be that you ‘coo’ back and make sure that your baby can see your smiling face so he knows that he has your attention. A toddler will engage in more specific “serve” interactions, for example, when a child points at an object (serve) and the parent responds with the name of that object (return), the child makes the mental correlation between the object and the corresponding word. During early school age years, the return may be showing that the object can also be represented by letters. Through this process, your child is developing the language and literacy area of her or his brain.

When it comes to emotional development, serve and return interactions can help children develop healthy self-esteem, cope with stress in a healthy way, develop compassion and empathy, forge strong friendships and be socially intelligent. Quality ‘serve and return’ interactions build the foundation for future learning, skill-building and social-emotional development that will allow your little one to succeed in life.

On the other hand, the absence of good serve and return interactions in a child’s environment can be really harmful to development. If a caregiver’s responses are unreliable or inappropriate, a child’s brain development may be disrupted resulting in impaired physical, mental and emotional health.

This happens naturally considering the emotional connect between most parents and children, but if the child is in a day care environment where children to caregiver ratio is high, or in case the caregiver is uninterested, insensitive or sick, child may not get to experience quality serve and return interactions

I strongly recommend watching this experiment in which a mother stops “returning” her child’s ‘serves’. It is heart breaking to watch but it conveys the message that how important serve and return interactions are for the child’s well being.


Play it well with your children to prep them up for the game of life…..

Image courtesy: Ingajico Comics – https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=ingajico%20comics




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