The third characteristic of temperament is the ability to cope with change. Coping with change refers to the ability to cope with and tolerate every day and larger changes.
Children who find changes to be difficult are called “keep it the same” kids. Although all children enjoy schedule consistency and dislike stopping an activity that they’re enjoying, keep-it-the-same children have a much harder time with transitions. They tend to react to even the smallest of shifts, such as a new bottle nipple or new food on their plate. They need time and support to get comfortable in new surroundings or with new people.
Other children take change in stride, and can be described as “go with the flow” kids. They tend to find most new things interesting. They easily adapt in new locations, for example by napping easily in noisy restaurants or nursing wherever you happen to be. When they’re older, they might enjoy drawing on the paper you tucked in your bag or joining in on conversation.
Take a minute to think about your own children or the children that you care for. Where do they fall in their ability to cope with change?
If you think your child is more of a “keep it the same kid”, you’ll want to try to use familiar objects to ease anxiety during transitions. When going new places, bring along your child’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Ease into new activities by talking about them first, and arrive early enough to allow your child to get comfortable. If they have a hard time leaving something they are enjoying, let them get involved in the transition by putting the ball in the stroller bag when it is time to leave the park or pressing the button to turn off the TV. Offer advance notice when an activity is about to end, and notice and praise your child when they successfully make a transition.
If you have a child that tends to fall on the “go with the flow” side of things, your parenting strategies will be a bit different. You will want to offer your child a variety of experiences, like visiting a new park or visiting the library for story hour, while also being sensitive to your child’s signals. When a child is extremely easy going, we can sometimes take for granted that any change is okay. No child will be at ease during every transition so offer them extra support during the times they are having trouble. No matter how much a child enjoys being out in the world, there’s nothing like snuggling at home with their favorite person and favorite story.
Protective and Risk Factors
When it comes to a child’s ability to cope with change, it’s easy to hope your child will have more of a “go with the flow” attitude. Keep-it-the-same kids are often seen first for their risk factors: that they are more difficult to take out on errands or trips because of their resistance to transitions and small changes in daily routines. Keep-it-the-same children, though, have a great protective factor: they don’t just accept any situation. They are less likely to succumb to peer pressure and other negative influences.
Children that go with the flow may adapt easier. However, their risk factor is that they can end up accepting less than optimal environments, which means they may accept negative influences without any protest.