Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you:
- You realize at hour four of a six hour drive to your campsite that you’ve left all of the drinks in the refrigerator at home.
- The sunny afternoon walk with your kids is ruined when biting flies descend in swarms.
- The trip to the playground comes to a screeching halt when one of your kids falls off the monkey bars and ends up with a bloody nose.
- Your geocaching adventure turns hostile when you can’t find a single cache.
Unless you’ve had unbelievably good luck, these scenarios are ones you can relate to—and you’ve probably got some outdoor disaster stories that rival the ones on the list (which all happened to my family, by the way). As much as I love the outdoors, it’s unpredictable. However, it’s that unpredictability that can teach an important lesson about ADAPTABILITY.
According to the video produced by Character Trades, “ADAPTABILITY is eagerly embracing a change in plans without complaint. The opposite of ADAPTABILITY is INFLEXIBILITY, holding tightly to something that prevents me from embracing an alternative.”
Okay, but how important is it that our kids learn to be adaptable? After all, we spend most of their young lives teaching them routine, with rules, curfews, and boundaries firmly in place. Why should they need to be adaptable? Here are just two answers to that question:
- In an article titled “How to Demonstrate Adaptability on the Job,” Neil Kokemuller highlights four traits of adaptable people that make them suitable for the 21st century workplace:
- Adaptable people are able to come up with alternative solutions to problems.
- Adaptable people accept surprises more easily, making the working environment more productive.
- Adaptable people easily accept new roles, important in rapidly changing workplaces.
- Adaptable people show calm and confidence, which helps them make quick decisions.
- In a Journal of Educational Psychology study of 969 Australian high school students, researchers found that “Young people who are more adaptable were more likely to participate in class, enjoy school, be more satisfied with life, have higher self-esteem, and have a more concrete sense of meaning and purpose in life.”
I acknowledge that some kids are just less flexible than others. Some children will balk at the idea of change in any form (and many adults feel the same way, hopefully without the screaming tantrums). It’s true that a child’s personality definitely plays a role, but outside adventures are a great way to teach the benefits of adaptability.
Here are five tips to encourage ADAPTABILITY in kids in an outdoor setting:
- Discuss adaptability in nature: The natural world is filled with examples of adaptability. Just as chameleons change color when threatened and trees grow deeper roots when water tables are low, the natural world shows us many ways to change, adapt, learn, and grow. The process is rarely a fast one, but nature has much to teach us.
- Model adaptability: I wrote a post about unrealistic expectations recently. In the process, it occurred to me that by reacting badly when my plans for our family’s outdoor adventures went awry, I was teaching my sons to follow suit. Rather than modeling adaptability, I was showing resistance and inflexibility. As parents, caregivers, and role models, it is our place to teach kids to accept change—not to fight against it.
- Acknowledge emotions associated with change: For many, change is frightening. We’re more likely to put up with the miserable we know than try something new. Outdoors settings represent an added component to these emotions, heightening fears of failure or worry about “doing it wrong.” However, these outdoor experiences also allow for more flexibility without dire consequences (yes, there are exceptions; I’ll save those for another post on another day): Can’t go on a picnic because it’s raining? Plan a puddle-jumping contest instead. Blow a bike tire in the middle of the family ride? Have a contest while walking back to see who can identify the most birds flying overhead.
- Think about opportunities afforded by unexpected changes: The idea of a “Plan B” is really a cliche since we discuss it so often, but having a Plan B, an alternative activity, in mind can keep problems in perspective. If something goes wrong, what could you do instead? Often the alternative ends up being as good—if not better—than the original plan.
- Praise flexibility. If we want to emphasize good behavior—in ourselves or in our children—a quick word of praise goes a long way. “Nice job rolling with the changes!” I’ve said to my sons—or “I’m so glad you decided to try out this trail instead of the one we’d intended.”
A confession: I’m not great at this idea of adaptability. In scenario A at the beginning of this post, the one with all the drinks left at home (for a week-long trip no less!), I fumed in the truck after the discovery. Admittedly, this was a minor issue that was easily remedied with a stop at a convenience store. My sons actually loved the fact they got to choose their own drinks, making that part of the trip better for them than what I’d planned. It was their flexibility that I leveraged later in the trip when it was too cold to do a planned activity and they were upset. “Remember how getting to pick your own drinks was better than what we’d planned?” I asked them. “Let’s think of something else we could do that would make today better.”
The natural world is a great model of adaptability and an excellent teacher, too—if we let it.
What outdoor activity disasters have happened to you and your family? Were you able to be adaptable and save the day?