Understanding Temperament: Adaptability

Temperament Matters

Part of what makes all children unique is that each one is born into this world with their own unique style or temperament that determines how they react to the world. An individual’s temperament profile consists of ten traits, one of them being adaptability, which will remain consistent throughout life.

Understanding these traits can help you to parent your children in the most effective way possible so you are able to meet each individual child’s needs.

What is Adaptability?

Adaptability, one of ten innate temperament traits that makes every child unique, refers to how easily or quickly your children adjust to changes in their environment after their initial response has occurred.

Some children are very flexible and are able to progress smoothly and quickly after they encounter a change in schedule or routine. They are also able to accept new items or ideas easily and without much fuss. Other children, however, have a more stressful time transitioning.

This temperament trait is closely tied to the trait of approach/withdrawal, which refers to children’s initial response or reaction to new things, ideas, places and people. Most children who are slow-to-adapt are also more likely to withdraw when first confronted with new ideas and those who are quick to adapt initially tend to be more receptive.


How can you determine how adaptable your children are?

Use the following questions to help you identify how adaptable your children are. Track your answers on the following scale from one to five:

  • Do your children cry and get upset when you ask them to finish an activity and move on to something else?

  • Do surprises upset your children?

  • Do your children find it stressful to change ideas or routines?

  • Do you feel like you have to coax or beg your children for days to get them involved in new activities?

  • Is it difficult for your children to make decisions and when they do, do they agonize over their choices?


No                                                                                        Yes

1         __         2        __            __         4    __            5

Adapts quickly                                                          Adapts slowly


Less adaptable children

If most of your answers fall to the right side of the scale, then you have children who, temperamentally, are slower to adapt. This means that your children have a more difficult time coping with changes in routines and schedules. child with arms crossed

  • They tend to be more rigid when it comes to making adjustments in their daily lives and often tantrum or cry when asked to conform before they are ready or have had a chance to get used to the change.

  • These children may be more resistant to and uncomfortable with the introduction of new activities or ideas or outings. This can feel disappointing if you are excited about something but your slow-to-adapt children are not.

    It helps to keep in mind that slow-to- adapt children eventually warm up to new ideas; they just need a little more time to feel comfortable than their more quick-to-adapt peers.

  • Slow-to-adapt children also are less comfortable around new people, new ideas and new items, like the new neighbor who moved in next door or the new pajamas that they just got for their birthday.

  • The good news about slow-to-adapt children is that they thrive on the predictability of routines. They are also less likely to rush into dangerous situations and are less influenced by peer pressure.


More adaptable children

If most of your answers fall toward the left side of the scale, then you have children who, temperamentally, are more adaptable.

    quick to adapt child

  • They tend to move smoothly from one activity to another and adjust more quickly to changes. in schedules and routines.

  • These children are easier to parent because they “go with the flow” and are more flexible.

  • They are more likely to enjoy the novelty of new schedules, activities and ideas.

  • Because these children seem almost too quick to react, they can be impulsive and may need encouragement to slow down and think before they act.


Things Parents Can Do

  • Know that adaptability is a part of your children’s temperament.

  • Be aware of how your children react to transitions.
    Use this information about their reactions to change to help engage their cooperation.

  • Monitor when changes or transitions become too overwhelming.
    Help your children find ways to calm down and adjust.

  • Give fore-warnings and information before transitons.
    This will help to make transitions smoother because he knows what will happen next and what behavior is expected. These children need to learn to become more flexible so that they can adjust better to changes; small changes a little at a time can ease them into being more comfortable with new routines.

  • Explain the sequence of events for outings or trips.
    This allows your child to know what to expect.

  • Give your child time to get used to a new situation.
    Don’t expect immediate compliance.

  • Use the idea of watching the clock or having a timer.
    Allow these devices, rather than yourself, to determine when activities have to be changed. This will cut down on power struggles and resistance.

  • For example, if you are planning a trip to the store, you can verbally warn the child you will be leaving in 15 minutes, and/or you can set a timer and let them know that when it goes off, it will be time to leave.

  • Bring a snack or a favorite toy with you on outings.
    This will help your child feel more comfortable when you have to quickly change tasks.

  • Encourage children to join activities.
    Balance that with avoiding putting any pressure on.

  • For quick-to-adapt children, teach them to think and use caution.
    Help them to consider consequences before jumping in or going along with new ideas or changes. They need to learn to think independently and to assert themselves if they don’t want to do something.

  • Teach children words to use to express how they are feeling.
    You can empower them by increasing their vocabulary so they can more accurately and appropriately communicate their feelings.

  • Learn to work together.
    Understand how your own temperament, including your own adaptability, fits or does not fit with your children’s temperament and create strategies to help each other.

  • Identify and value your children’s unique temperament.
    Help them to understand the value of their uniqueness.

  • Send messages to your children that help them to feel good about who they are, messages such as:

  • “Change is difficult for you.”

    “You like to know what to expect before you have to do it.”

    “You can learn to be flexible.”

    “You enjoy activities.”

    “You can stop and think before you act.”



    For more information about temperament, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help families do the best job they can to raise their children.

    Raising Your Spirited Child by Kurcinka The Difficult Child Understanding Temperament by Schick The Challenging Child by Greenspan

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