What is Serve and Return?
Considering all things, when I say serve and return, you may think I am talking about the tennis or volleyball competitions in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. On the contrary, 'Serve and Return' is a term that psychologists use to describe the communicative interactions between a parent and a child.
The term, 'Serve and Return' is typically geared toward infants who are in the early stages of development. This process of serve and return marks the beginning of the building blocks of learning. For example, in infancy, babies begin to babble which is the serve. This may seem as nonsensical jibber-jabber to a developed adult brain, but truly, this babbling has a purpose. When you respond to the babbling which is the return, you are helping develop the parts of your baby’s brain which processes language.
There are two central locations that are distinguished as the language development and processing regions of the brain. These are located in the temporal lobe and frontal lobe, and are titled, the Wernicke's area and the Broca's area, respectively. These two areas serve as the hub for communicating with others and this eventually serves us in learning how to make sense of the social and material world around us.
All forms of communication have purpose. If we look at this through the lens of American Sign Language (ASL), we could also reasonably conclude that all behavior has purpose. As one moves their body to create a specific and distinct message, we see that their physical movements have meaning for the purpose of communicating a need, want, feeling, or thought.
What does this say about your child's behaviors? Essentially, it says that whenever your child is acting out, ignoring, disobeying, or challenging you, they are doing it for a specific purpose. Many parents believe, "This is just a bad kid." I challenge those parents to consider, what is this child's behavior attempting to accomplish?
Believe it or not, many of our fears as children still seem to follow us into adulthood such as fear of lacking security, stability, predictability, resources, freedom, control, and connection. Could it be that your child's behavior is attempting to recompense something they fear they may be lacking? Might you share the same fears as your child? And aren't they so intuitive to be able to perceive your deepest and darkest fears as well?
My reason for saying this is so that you might be more aware of what you are serving your child. Are you serving them love, hope, courage, confidence, patience, and compassion? Or are you serving them the opposite of any of these? Learning, growth, and development is indeed a tennis match of serve and return. So, play more tennis with your children! Of course, tennis can be draining and exhausting; that is why it is important to practice self-care. Like an Olympic athlete who takes care of their body in an elite way, take care of your mental and spiritual health so that you can continue to help nurture your child into the best they can be.
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About Sam Nabil
Sam offers therapy in Boston and Boston Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety. Sam Nabil was featured in many prestigious publications. Check out his interview with Aljazeera English, The Washington post, The Boston Globe, Fatherly magazine, Women's health magazine, Cornell university, Yahoo News, USA Today, Marriage.com
Naya Clinics offers Marriage Counselors near me, individual therapy near me, and life coaching near me in various locations across the USA and the world. Naya Clinics also offers Online marriage counseling, online therapy, and online life coaching.
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