Why learning how to be adaptable is more important for kids than ever

by Emily Glover January 10, 2022

young girl happy in bed with white sheets

If you had asked someone this time last year to explain “social distancing,” what would they have said? As we all know, adults weren’t the only ones who had to make adjustments when the pandemic began: Kids around the world were thrust into remote schooling situations, moved playdates exclusively to video calls, and were encouraged to wear face masks in public.

Even as in-person schooling and work resumes and social gatherings can happen without 6-feet of distance, there will be lessons to take forth from the pandemic. Among those lessons should be the importance of preparing our children for uncertainty and giving them confidence in their abilities to land on their feet. In other words: The necessity of adaptability had never been more evident.

As parents, here’s what parents should know about fostering adaptability among kids.

Adaptability is an innate temperament trait, but also can be shaped

Researchers believe that all people are born with different “traits of temperament,” including an individual’s ability to be adaptable. As Certified Family Life Educator Kylie Rymanowicz said in an article for Michigan State University Extension, “The traits of temperament are mostly innate traits that we are born with, although they can be influenced by an individual’s family, culture or their experiences.”

When it specifically comes to adaptability, some people are born on the “highly adaptable” end of the scale, some on the “slow to adapt” end of the scale and many more in between. By understanding this about our children, we can help meet their needs while steering them gradually toward more adaptability.

“Children who are slower to adapt may need more understanding and warnings from you when things are going to change,” Rymanowicz suggested. “Start giving warnings when your child will need to shift from one activity to another, like picking up their toys and heading into bath time.”

Adaptability is a top factor in academic and non-academic success

According to a 2013 study of nearly 1,000 high school students in Australia, students who were adaptable did better in school, had more self-esteem and felt more satisfaction in life—among other benefits. A step above resilience, or the “capacity to deal with adversity,” students who were adaptable possessed behavioural, cognitive and emotional skills for coping.

As Andrew Martin, the lead researcher for the study later wrote for The Conversation, “Young people can be taught how to be more adaptable, and then in turn better embrace the opportunities of their ever-changing world.”

Being adaptable doesn’t mean being unsure of yourself

One misconception is that an adaptable person is content to let others call the shots. In reality, as the 2013 study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology showed, adaptable kids have more confidence. For example, say you child was looking forward to playing with a friend, but the get-together was cancelled at the last minute. To foster adaptability, it can help to acknowledge their emotion (like disappointment) while encouraging them to come up with a fun alternate plan.

Explain the ways you’re adaptable

As our children’s first teachers, we can influence them with our actions and reactions to events in life. Just as when they have a canceled playdate, you can describe the steps you are taking if a babysitter can’t make it at the last minute or the dinner you were making didn’t turn out as planned. If there is an unclear silver lining—because there isn’t always another great option—you can explain that you are proud of your ability to adapt and stay positive even during challenging situations.

If there’s one thing the past year has taught us all it’s that life can be filled with uncertainties. By embracing adaptability, we make the statement we’re willing to rise to the challenge. Kids who learn to do that now will be well prepared for life, no matter what it holds next.

Emily Glover


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