Cultivating Flexibility & Resilience, and Adaptability

A child does a back handspring in shallow water
Psychological flexibility helps us thrive in an unpredictable world!

As parents and educators of young children, our role is to facilitate the “goldilocks” approach in supporting learning by ensuring that the challenges children experience are neither too daunting to overcome nor too easy. Challenges, resistance, and adversity lead to growth, but too much adversity (especially without the opportunity to make meaning of difficulty) can lead to trauma. 

We also know that children thrive on predictable and consistent routines where they know what to expect. However, we also value that opportunities to deal with the unexpected allow children to grow skills of flexibility, resilience, and adaptability. These are critical life skills! We want all children to be able to successfully cope with new and different situations and thrive in variable conditions. 

Our role as humans who have been on the planet a lot longer is to balance the routine and scheduled parts with the spontaneous and new parts and expose our children to the widest variety of conditions and environments. This idea is explored in great detail by Dr. Alison Gopnik in her work on the Gardener and Carpenter approach to parenting. We can embody the “gardener approach” to support an environment where children thrive as opposed to the idea that raising children is like following a blueprint, as if we have control over the outcome of our children. We do this by creating flexibility in our own lives, and modeling the resilience of bouncing back when something unexpected happens. 

The flip side to attachment to predictability and routine can be rigidity and inflexibility, which is obviously a limiting belief. We have a responsibility to model adaptable and flexible thinking though awareness of the places in our life where we tend to have stuck or rigid thinking ourselves. We also model this for children through the ways that we demonstrate, a growth mindset, our willingness to taste a new and unfamiliar food, or face a challenge with perseverance and skillful tools of noticing and naming our feelings and frustrations.

The nuances of routine and flexibility can be applied to all aspects of our lives. Human beings are relational species, and we know that children thrive in the context of safe and secure attachment relationships. We want to support and nourish these relationships and connections through a mentality of inclusion and belonging where we have curiosity and empathy towards people different than ourselves, rather than viewing differences through a process of “othering”. Our goal is to respect the significance of all relationships, and simultaneously widen the circle of security. It is beneficial for children to build relationships with people that reflect the diversity of the world itself!

It is also interesting to think about the nuances behind our drive for familiarity and routine versus unconstrained curiosity and creativity through considering the integration of our brain from a neurological perspective. Here is a fascinating TED talk with Dr. Jill Bolte Wilson, a brain scientist who suffered a stroke that took the entire Left hemisphere of her brain offline. The left hemispheres of our brains governs our language centers and is often associated with logical thinking and rationality, craves predictability, and functions in a more linear dimension of past and future. The right hemisphere of our brain functions outside of time-bound dimensions and is only present in the now, encompasses emotions, feelings and essentially operates at the energetic level in a way that is artistic, creative, and spontaneous. In this podcast interview with Dr. Bolte Wilson, she makes the case for Whole-brain living, which refers to the full integration of all parts of our brain, including our left/right hemispheres, top/bottom, front/back, as well as the integration of our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls. 

At Treehouse Learning, we also seek to apply a whole-brain perspective to child-development and early education for a Whole Brain, Whole Person, and Whole Planet. We believe that an integrated state is characterized by resilience, flexibility, and adaptability. It also is the place where we tend to experience the most ease, joy and connection, and is the state in which we thrive!

Some ideas to increase flexibility and support whole-brain living

  • Try something new and switch up a routine: an afternoon snack during morning hours, breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast!
  • Take a different route home
  • Build relationships with people with different lived experiences than your own (i.e, race/sexual orientation/gender expression or identity, age, physical ability etc)
  • Embrace the non-typical special occasions to stay up late, like a street fair or holiday celebration
  • Find acceptance when your kids eat fewer vegetables and more sweets than normal at a family picnic
  • Model trying new foods yourself, and creating an environment of positive anticipation for tasting a new flavor, (i.e. “Mmmmmmmm! Look at this new food? I wonder what it is going to taste like- I can’t wait to try it!)
  • Engage in a sensory based-activity with your children that may be outside of your typical comfort zone (i.e. something messy). 
  • Creative arts, including music, dance, artistic expression, or simply moving your body.

With all that, we hope the message comes across clearly that if it sounds like a good time for your family to attend a 9:30 firework display, go create that family memory together because your child will bounce back to their normal routine! And if you’d rather not have to deal with the morning after all the festivities, life is full of other opportunities and experiences and we can let go of the Fear of Missing Out! (Or, even better, reframe this as the Joy of Missing Out, because it is a fact of life that we simply cannot do it all). 

Either way, there are plenty of fun and expansive ways to move towards integrated, whole-brain living in ways that support our children to thrive in unpredictable and variable environments!

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