At GIFT Family Services, we constantly look for ways to help families connect and create positive relationships and moments of togetherness that build healthy bonding in a family. A Facebook video posted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University struck us as a wonderful blog topic for this holiday season. It explained a concept called “Serve and Return”
This refers to the feedback loop that occurs when communicating with others. It involves give-and-take, attentive eye-contact, deep listening and an interest in connecting with another. This ability to communicate authentically is the most valuable present we can give our children. It is not something that can be bought but it is something that can be taught.
Although humans have been programmed to be social beings and to enjoy interacting, the skill set on which it depends must be modeled. It takes courage to reach out to others, to risk being vulnerable, and ask for what one wants. This innate ability develops through observation and repetition. It channels through each of the senses. Vocalizations, gestures, touch, tone of voice, eye contact— all contribute to the communication loop.
In families, parents instinctively teach this essential life skill to their kids by responding accurately to a child’s actions. When baby coos and her parents coo back, when baby smiles and her parents return the smile, or when baby reaches out and her mom or dad reaches back, she learns that her effort produces a response. Baby “Serves” and parents “Return.” This simple process produces profound, life-shaping results. She discovers her ‘voice” in the world and learns that her actions produce results. She perceives the world as a safe place, one that acknowledges her presence, responds to her overtures, and makes room for her contributions. Most importantly, she realizes that her family is that safe base from which she can explore the larger world and to which she can return to refuel.
When we share 360˚ of emotion, we show our children that they too can be real with us. They can share their joy as well as their fear, their curiosity as well as their worry, their anger as well as their love. This gives them permission to be authentic and builds trust. Trust is foundational to healthy attachment.
This season give your children the gift of your focused, responsive attention and your relationship will glow with an invaluable holiday light. Watch the video here: