Setting a Realistic Adaptation Level

Setting a Realistic Adaptation Level
When your child is frustrated or disappointed on occasion, does that make you feel like a failure as a parent?  Well, you should know that whatever you have done or haven’t done is actually beneficial for his mental health.

There is something psychologists refer to as “adaptation level.”  We ascertain our joy or misery by comparing current experience to past experience.  Let’s say a student gets a B on an exam.  Is he happy or sad?  If he has always been a lousy student routinely getting D’s and F’s, and this is the first time he’s received anything as high as a B, he is ecstatic.  On the other hand, if he has always been a straight A student, and this is the first time he’s received anything as low as a B, he is devastated.

Some mothers and fathers make the mistake of believing it is their job to make their little one deliriously happy all the time and give him everything he wants.  Then later, when their child encounters life’s inevitable downturns, he is not emotionally prepared to deal with them.  Just look at all those kids who are big stars in Hollywood and get everything they want and do whatever they want to do.  How many times do you see them descending into alcoholism, drug abuse, and even suicide in adolescence and young adulthood?

Now I’m not recommending that you lock your child in the basement so the rest of his life is wonderful in comparison.  However, you do want to ensure that you are setting a realistic adaptation level for him, and that means allowing him to experience some frustration or disappointment when appropriate now and then.

Dr. Mike

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at