Family, Kids & Relationships

Is your child an orchid or a dandelion?

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Parents hear all the time that children are resilient and bounce back quickly, which is true to some extent—especially when we compare kids with adults. However, not all kids share this sturdy temperament—and that’s okay! It can be really helpful for parents to determine where their kids fall on the spectrum, from super resilient to highly sensitive. 

In their latest research on child resilience, child development specialists Bruce J. Ellis and W. Thomas created terms to describe a child’s place on this spectrum. “Orchid children” are highly sensitive, and more prone to being impacted by stressors in their environment. “Dandelion children” on the other hand, so named for the dandelion’s ability to grow anywhere including coming up through cracks in a sidewalk, are often able to thrive in just about any set of circumstances. 

Identifying your child’s temperament

The tendency for a child to become an “orchid” or a “dandelion” is primarily genetic. One is not better than the other, and both types of children can succeed and thrive. The key for parents is to know which type your child is, and keep it in mind when they’re experiencing stress or challenges. 

If you find your child is primarily a “dandelion” in most cases, offering them the attention, connection, and support normally expected in parenting may be all they need to thrive. If they’re already genetically wired to bounce back from hardship and disappointment, your love and support will be able to get them through most challenges.

Orchid children are not as common as dandelion children. They are more sensitive than other kids to both negative and positive stimuli, and will often have a noticeable reaction to them. If your kid wears their emotions on their sleeve, is particular or easily irritated about changes in their environment, or is prone to anxiety, they may be an orchid child.

Raising an orchid child

If you have an orchid child at home, these tips can help you raise them to thrive and embrace their sensitivities:

  • Establish a regular routine for their day. Knowing what’s coming can provide a sense of control and calm to highly sensitive kids.
  • Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone every once in a while. They may need some extra nudging to try new things.  
  • Celebrate their sensitivity! Highly sensitive people are also extremely empathetic, kind, and emotionally intelligent. Remind them often of their strengths! 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.