Serve and Return

The relationship that children have with their caregivers from an early age, as well as the stimuli that surround them, are integral to their overall developmental success and have been shown to have positive effects on mental health and wellbeing as they age. Research has shown that educational achievement and productivity in adulthood is impacted by early childhood experiences.

Children are constantly absorbing information from their experiences, and interpreting them. Whether it is observing their parents cope with adversity in a positive fashion or watching them eat nutritiously and exercise regularly, these experiences will help to engrain these behaviors so that when the child is faced with similar circumstances they are more likely to emulate these actions. It is also important for you to have regularly scheduled visits with your own physician to ensure that your health, including your emotional wellbeing, are being supported. Seeking help for yourself is a contribution to your child’s successful development.

Executive Functioning is the brain’s ability to filter, prioritize, and focus one’s thinking. According to the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University the experiences and interactions that children have during a crucial window of development help shape their executive functioning for the rest of their lives. The “Serve and Return Interaction”, described by the Center, is one of the primary ways that children’s brains become molded and shaped to activate and develop neuronal connections that will become continual. For example, young children “serve” by gazing and focusing on a specific object, and adults “return” this attentive behavior by saying and repeating the name of the object. In due time the child will make connections in her brain which will enable her to instantaneously recall the name of the object.

It is important to engage your child in stimulating activities during the early stages of their development. The simple act of reading to your child, even as early as two months of age, can have enduring effects on a baby’s mind. Not only does the physical act of reading to your child bring you closer together, but the action helps to solidify and strengthen the emotional parent-child bond. For example, the playful sing-song voice of a mother reciting the words and allowing her 6 month old child to grasp the pages of a hard paperbound book, feel them underneath her fingers and flip the pages, engage the child and allow connections in her brain to ignite.

Published on: March 19, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Ayala Miller MD
Dr. Ayala Miller is a resident pediatrician at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a medical contributor for Fox News.
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