Adaptation to the Environment
Adaptation is the evolutionary process in which organisms adjust to their environment. When your baby has an experience, she learns by taking in information through her senses in a distinct way and attempts to adapt to her environment. Based on experience and learning, she spontaneously adjusts her behavior. She naturally revises, reshapes, and restructures new knowledge to meet her needs in her environment.
Your baby has a long learning period before maturation to help her adapt to her own environment. She adapts by assimilating and accommodating information to help her survive, and she also adapts to develop resilience and creativity to help her flourish and maximize her potential.
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist who developed a theory of children’s cognitive development, coined the terms assimilation and accommodation. Together, he said, these two processes make up adaptation through equilibration:
- Assimilation is the way your child takes in new information and integrates it with her existing knowledge. For instance, she knows how to suck on her mother’s breast, and she uses that knowledge to suck the same way when she is given a bottle or a pacifier.
- Accommodation happens when your child takes in new information and adjusts her existing knowledge based on a new way of thinking. If she is given an object and learns to use it in a different way, or if she learns that it should not be sucked, then she changes her thinking. She accommodates her behavior and learns something new.
- Equilibration occurs when your child finds a balance between assimilation and accommodation. When she maintains balance between applying her previous knowledge and changing her behavior to accommodate new knowledge, she can move to her next stage of development. At first she is satisfied with her state of knowledge, but then she becomes dissatisfied as she takes in new knowledge and becomes aware of the weaknesses of her current knowledge. When she blends the old knowledge with the new knowledge, she becomes satisfied with her new mode of thinking and comes to a state of equilibrium.
Because of the nervous system’s plasticity, human nature is flexible. Your baby can adapt to a wide variety of environments. Due to this adaptive capability of restructuring and reorganizing, her nervous system has unlimited potential for change and growth.
To foster your baby’s adaptability and resilience as she develops and learns, you can provide an enriched environment with space to explore and to move safely, high-quality food and water, fresh air, and social interactions. Resilience helps your child overcome difficulties, push her limits, and learn from her mistakes.
Due to her plasticity, your child can develop new approaches and remain open to creation and discovery. In the same way that her brain responds to external stimulation, it can respond to its own response. By questioning her own thoughts and actions and trying to improve, she develops an attitude of innovation and imagination. Creativity can often come from the need to adapt, as the saying goes: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In this case, adaptation moves from reactive to deliberate.
Your child’s brain adapts to both positive and negative situations. When she is flexible, cooperative, and accommodating, she can move through the world with ease, because she ends up receiving less resistance from her environment. On the other hand, when your child adapts and complies so much that she foregoes her own will, needs, and passions, she may limit her potential. You can help her find balance between being overly adaptive and overly assertive.
Adaptation is a form of learning that can be reactive or deliberate. Your baby is adaptive when she assimilates and accommodates, which involves lower mental functions. When she adapts by intentionally improving, innovating, and creating, however, she is using her higher mental functions.