September 15, 2021

Supporting Children through Responsive Interactions

Did you know that your simple, everyday interactions with young children build their brains? That is right! Responsive interactions, also known as “Serve and Return,” are essential to supporting the healthy development of young children.

What are Responsive Interactions?

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Serve and Return is about “responsive interactions between children and the people who care for them.” 90 percent of the brain develops before age five, which means early childhood is a critical period of learning and growth. By ensuring that your child has access to caring, responsive relationships with adults, you build your child’s brain and help them reach their full potential.

What is a Serve?

The term “serve” refers to moments where a child is reaching out to you for attention. This could be through eye contact, pointing, facial expressions, crying, babbling, touch, speech, gestures, and more. While these serves may seem like small, everyday interactions, they actually play a big role in your child’s learning and development.

What is a Return?

The term “return” refers to moments where an adult recognizes a child’s serve and responds appropriately through eye contact, gestures, facial expressions, speech, or another relevant response. Caregivers can also name what a child is seeing, doing, or feeling to make important languages connections to the action or interaction.

What does Serve and Return look like?

Serve and Return can be broken down into five easy steps:

  1. Notice your child’s serve and shift your attention to what they are looking at.
  2. Return your child’s serve by offering support or encouragement.
  3. Name what your child is seeing, touching, hearing, tasting, or doing.
  4. Keep the interaction going. Take turns, keep it going back and forth.
  5. Practice beginning and ending activities.

Learn More

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has developed several resources on responsive interactions with young children. To learn more, visit their website or check out these resources:

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A caregiver looks down at nature items on a table as a young child looks at her, smiling.