Serve and Return Interactions

Serve and return interactions are patterns of back-and-forth responses between an infant and an adult. Serve and return interactions are a little like a tennis match. A baby can “serve” by babbling, smiling, or even crying. The adult “returns” the serve by responding to the infant. If the baby is cooing, the adult might repeat what the baby says or expand on it by making new sounds. The key to serve and return interactions is the back-and-forth exchange between the baby and adult over a period of time.

The sustained interaction that happens when adults and babies practice serve and return are important for healthy infant development. Infants learn important language skills, such as the back-and-forth nature of a conversation, through serve and return interactions. Experiencing the adult’s focused attention helps build secure attachment. Seeing that the adult responds to the baby’s “serves” strengthens the baby’s confidence.

Serve and return interactions are also essential for healthy brain development. The repetition in the back-and-forth interactions reinforces pathways of synaptic connections, enabling them to become stronger and more complex. These complex neural pathways form the foundations for learning, relationships, and many other important skills.

Parents are encouraged to begin engaging in serve and return interactions in early infancy to begin building the foundation of neural pathways. Parents can support and engage in serve and return interactions by:

· Making eye contact

· Giving verbal responses

· Giving the infant your full attention

· Touching the infant

· Using varied facial expressions

· Finding other creative ways to keep the interactions going