Serve & Return Relationship

The relationship between a child and their caregiver is crucial to the child’s brain development, especially in their earliest years of life. Cooing, babbling, and facial expressions shared between the infant and their caregiver serves to build social, emotional, and cognitive developments. Delays in the development of any of these areas can have adverse, long term impacts.

Fast Facts

1. If an adults response to a child is unreliable, inconsistent, or inappropriate the developing architecture of the brain may be disrupted.

2. Disruption to the development of brain architecture in young children can have major negative impacts on their physical, mental, and emotional health.

3. Serve and return relationships allows for the creation and strengthening of neural connections.

4. An adult that has the abilities to strengthen the serve/return relationship with an infant works towards ensuring learning, health, and behavior down the road.

In Depth Look

Serve and return relationships build the complex architecture of a child’s brain. This kind of relationship with a caregiver creates the foundation on which developments regarding learning, behavior, and emotions take place. Developments made through serve and return create an environment conducive to making other developments in the child’s future. Cognitive, social, and learning developments are created through the foundation established by serve and return relationships and therefor set the tone for later success in these domains.
If there is an absent or unreliable relationship between the child and their caregiver, the serve/return relationship is not in place, adversely impacting the child’s development. Not only does the absence of this relationship negatively impact the child’s development it can also cause them to develop a toxic stress response due to the lack of communication and interaction. Healthy brain architecture is dependent on a solid foundation built during the early developmental years of a child’s life.

Harvard: Developing Child
University of Minnesota: Project for Babies
The Science of Early Childhood Development

Source: Alberta Family Wellness Initiative