Anyone who has played volleyball or tennis knows that the ball is in play when the first serve soars over the net. And that the play is over when one player wins and leaves the court. Something similar happens between a baby and his parent when the baby catches the parent’s attention with sounds and body movement (serve) and the parent responds with direct eye contact, soft sounds, questions and touch (return). This play can go on quite happily until the baby tires. It is the basis for healthy attachment and the foundation for many developmental skills such as speech and problem solving.
But - If the mom stops the play before the baby is ready, he will try every skill he has learned to get her back, from persuasive coos to sharp screams, to whole body movements and sad crying. The Still Face experiment done in 1975 shows this sequence very clearly. It demonstrates how completely engaged baby and Mom are until Mom is requested to show a blank, unmoving face to her child . In some painfully long minutes the baby tries every “serve” she can think of to entice mom back into play. Watch her when she succeeds.
The most important influence on early brain development is the real-life serve and return interaction with caring adults. This only happens with real people, in real time. The next time your baby serves you an invitation to play, get on eye level and return that serve with one of your own grins. You’ll both be winners at that game.