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What are ‘serve and return’ interactions?


In tennis, when one player serves, the other player returns, and a rally begins. The same is true for interacting with your baby - your baby ‘serves’ and you ‘return’. In fact, Harvard researchers claim that serve and return interactions actually shape early brain development.

Example of serve and return

Baby: Looks at you and smiles 

You: Look back at your baby and smile 

Baby: Reaches for your hand 

You: Extend a finger for them to hold 

Baby: Starts cooing 

And so on… 

Notice your baby’s signs of communication (‘Serves’)

This may take getting used to but any little thing like a smile, looking at you, crying, cooing, reaching or pointing are all ‘serves’. 

Responding to your baby (‘Returns’)

If you’re not sure how to respond, most of the time, imitating what they do is perfectly fine, and your baby will likely enjoy seeing this. 

Who initiates? 

Normally, your baby will initiate an interaction. The signs are usually clearer when you are fully engaged in the activity with your baby, such as when you spend time playing together.

Have a conversation 

It might feel awkward talking to yourself but your baby is definitely listening and absorbing. Have conversations with them about anything at all.