By: Stephanie Shabangu, Penfield Children’s Center

Every child has his/her likes and dislikes and feelings toward what is exciting and what is stressful. From the moment your little one is born, he starts to develop his own personality characteristics. Is he easy-going, constantly fussy, comfortable with others holding him or prefer only mom? While some of these traits are innate to him, even the most intolerant child can be taught the art of adaptability.

But first, why is adaptability important and what does having an adaptable child mean? According to, the word “adaptability” actually means “…able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions.” When your child is able to adapt to various situations, it doesn’t mean that he will be a push-over, it means that he is learning to be flexible. As parents, it is our role to create a “toolbox” for our children, filled with lessons and skills that will allow our little ones to have the capacity to respond to change in a positive way.

The American Psychological Association reports that there are three types of adaptability: cognitive (the way he thinks), emotional (the way he feels) and behavioral (the way he acts). When a child falls on uncertain times, his level of adaptability will dictate how well he handles that situation.

What does all this mean? Well, let’s take for example, a scenario in which you move to a new state and your shy child is forced to start a new school. While every child might experience a bit of apprehension, a child who has been taught solid skills for adapting to the new environment, will have an easier time making friends, participating in class and looking at the new school as a positive opportunity.

With that in mind, here are some ideas for raising an adaptable (and resilient) child:

  • Create a routine for your child, but make it flexible. Routines help children feel in-control and safe, but make sure to add in some wiggle room for when things don’t go as planned, because let’s face it, sometimes they won’t. Is bedtime typically around 8:00 p.m. each night? Bend the rules a bit on Friday nights and let him stay up late to finish a movie.
  • Show your little one how a change in plans does not mean he won’t have a good time. Did a playdate cancel? Acknowledge that your child might feel sad he cannot see his friend, but offer a fun alternative. Something like, “I know you feel bad that Liam can’t play, but now we can have a movie night, just you and me,” will help him see that making new plans can be just as fun.
  • Lead by example. If things don’t turn out as planned, how do you react? Control your urge to have a minor meltdown of your own and instead, talk through what happened and think of a new idea or solution. Baby-sitter cancel? Enjoy a dinner out with the family instead and reschedule your dinner date for the following week.
  • Be your child’s cheerleader. Offer praise and words of encouragement when your child shows adaptability. Did you have plans to play at the park, but got rained out? Saying to your child, “I know you’re sad that we can’t go to the park, but I really like your idea for visiting the library instead,” helps him feel confident in his abilities to embrace change and go-with-the-flow.

Helping your child traverse through the ups and downs of life will allow him to practice flexibility, while also maintaining control of his life as he grows older.

How have you helped your child become more adaptable?


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