When you talk with your child and expect a response from them, you're using the It's Your Turn strategy.

The goal is to encourage your child to use their words and build their listening and language skills to become a great conversationalist. Use this strategy to teach your child the power of turn-taking in conversations. It also helps your child further their spoken language and thinking skills, which are important for expressing their own thoughts and ideas.

When you use this strategy and your child engages in this back-and-forth conversation, it's also known as serve and return.

Serve and Return

Does “serve and return” make you think of tennis? It’s also a communication technique that’s crucial in early brain development for your little one. You can start using serve and return even before your baby starts uttering their first words.

When your baby engages in this back-and-forth conversation, the connections in their brain grow and become stronger. These connections are critical for listening, spoken language, and reading.

What Does Turn Taking Look Like?

Think of a 'serve' as a turn your baby takes to communicate with you. This could be a smile, a look, a movement such as kicking their legs, or a sound they make to get your attention. These are examples of how your baby may serve something your way in hopes of a response.

A 'return' can be any response to your baby. You can acknowledge their effort with a smile or a laugh, but saying something to them is even better. "Well, aren't you smiley this morning?" The communication continues back and forth. This can work the other way as well when you take a turn by saying something, like "Good morning! You're awake!" so they can return with a smile or a noise.


When an infant or young child babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult responds appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain that support the development of communication and social skills.

The Harvard Center on the Developing Child

How to Help Your Child Take a Turn

There are specific techniques you can use to help your child learn how to serve and return. These turn-taking skills will be important on their journey to listening and becoming a great conversationalist.

Pause, Wait, and Lean In

When doing everyday routines with your child, pause during an action, look expectantly, and wait for them to show or tell you what to do.

  • When going to pick your baby up, say, "I'm going to pick you up!" Wait and look expectantly for them to lift their arms.
  • Before opening any door, container, or wrapper, pause just before opening to lean in and look expectantly until your child says "Open." Celebrate and repeat, "You said open! I'm opening the cabinet. There are all your cups!"

Offer Choices

If you're asking your child a question and they don't respond, change how you ask and provide them choices.

  • "What do you want for lunch?" (no response) "Do you want pizza or a sandwich?"
  • Once they respond, they repeat it back to them to offer context and show them how they can use that word in a full sentence.
  • If they say "Pizza" then you respond "Yum! You could say 'I want pizza.'"

Auditory Closure

Help your child say words and phrases by stopping and leaving off the last word or part of a familiar phrase, then lean in and look expectantly for them to say the missing words. Use a sing-song voice to get their attention. Auditory closure works well when your child is just learning to put words together but not yet using them on their own.

  • "Your hat goes on your ____."
  • "We sit on a chair and sleep on a ___."
  • "The door on the bus goes open and ___."
  • "The people on the bus go __ _ __."

Talk About Your Day

Use your child's own experiences, like getting dressed or helping with lunch, to practice conversations and taking turns with another person.

  • Take pictures of some routine moments in your day. Share the photos with your child during the day and talk together about those moments together.
  • Have your child share their day with another family member or friend using the pictures as prompts.

Model Taking a Turn

You can show your child how to take turns in a conversation by modeling an example. You can do this with another family member or by yourself.

  • With others: “(Child Name), What do you want to eat?” If there’s no response, ask someone else. “Mom, what do you want to eat?” Mom: “I want a cracker.” Turn and ask your child, “Mommy wants a cracker, what do you want to eat?”
  • By yourself: “What do you want to eat?” If there’s no response, you take a turn and model the answer. “I want to eat a cracker. What do you want to eat?”

More Serve and Return Techniques

Our helpful handout shares LSL techniques you can use in everyday interactions and routines to practice serve and return with your child.

Learn More

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