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Why are “serve and return” interactions important?

Thanks to “serve and return” interactions, children develop skills earlier, including language, attentiveness, and problem-solving!

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child describes the importance of “serve and return” interactions in child development. Indeed, children naturally reach out for interaction, and adults respond by vocalising and gesturing back at them. This serve can, for example, be a cry, a gesture, or eye contact, and the return can be a hug, words, or touch.

Children learn from the adult responses how to interpret and regulate their own reactions. These interactions build and strengthen neural connections in children’s brains that are responsible for communication and social skills. They also provide a good environment for the children to learn and discover human connection, having a trustworthy adult to accompany their journey.

If the adult’s responses are unreliable, inappropriate, or absent, this will have an impact on the children's physical, mental, and emotional health. This situation, on a repeated basis, can disrupt the healthy development of the brain since these inappropriate responses make the baby or child not receive the stimulation their brain needs to grow, generating instead a stress response.

Children’s attachment to their caring adult is the main characteristic of childhood that affects their development into adulthood. This attachment is vital throughout the children's growth, and it is a powerful tool for the challenges the child could face. Even in situations where children are exposed to conflict, migration, and other humanitarian crises, the relationship with their caregiver helps the child explore the world, learn about emotions and language, and form relationships. Through responsive care and the guidance of the adult, the child gains confidence to explore the world.

“Responsive caregivers appear to “dance” with their children. They are in tune with seeing, hearing, feeling and responding to their children.” - Nurturing Care for Early Childhood Development

Find out more about nurturing care.

Comments: 1 (Add)


This is great information, and thanks for sharing. It reminds me that communication is a two-way thing and serve and return interactions are part of responsive parenting.