Using 'serve and return' to help defuse difficult situations aids in the development of your tamaiti, and enables them to feel heard and valued.

Resolving disputes

In this short You Tube clip(external link), community champion and parent Latu To'omaga explains about a small dispute between his boys.

Latu talks to Vicky Ellison about how he helped them to heal the rupture using the parenting practice 'serve, return and resolve'.

Busy parents

Parenting can be a full-on job, and some days parents can feel really pressured. Work commitments, supporting community, and responsibilities within the wider whānau can have the kids feeling low down on the priority list.

  • What might be going through a child’s mind when they’re developing their relationship with their parent?

Watch Latu and Vicky explain what’s going on and how relationships grow.

Five steps to serve and return

Read this Tākai resource page about Conversations.There’s a link to an article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education called How Caregivers Can Boost Young Brains. It says that it’s not just the number of words spoken to or by the tamaiti that counts, but also the ‘layers’ of conversation.

The article describes 5 steps for parents or caregivers to practise ‘serve and return’ conversations.

  1. Notice what’s grabbed the child’s attention. That’s the serve.
  2. Respond with support. Acknowledge and reward the child with encouragement.
  3. Name it: It’s now the adult’s turn to comment on what’s interested the tamaiti.
  4. Keep it going: Take turns and remember to give the child enough time to respond.
  5. Practise endings: Let the tamaiti end the interaction when they’re ready to move on.

Whakarongo mai – listen to me explains how responding warmly to baby’s cues is a ‘serve and return’ process that helps build the attachment relationship between baby and the people who care for them.

Practical tips

Practical tips on how serve and return can help defuse difficult situations.

When you’re impatient because you are asking a child to get something for you:

  • speak in a calm polite voice
  • be grateful and say thank you
  • tell them how helpful and kind they are.

Watch out you don’t miss the serve and return moments like when:

  • your child is pulling at your pants saying “Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad…”
  • you’re texting while they’re talking to you and they’re repeating themselves
  • your child is talking to you and a phone call comes in that you want to take.

By simply responding to our children’s serve with interest and warmth, we are showing them that:

  • that they're important to us, which in turn grows their self confidence
  • we value our relationship with them
  • that is how we treat other people we care about.

Helpful resources for whānau