Orchids are beautiful striking flowers that need particular care and attention. They are not always easy to care for, but the payback when they have the right conditions to grow in is delightful. And so it is too for our highly sensitive children (HSC). The more you understand what a HSC needs to thrive, the more you can intervene to provide those conditions.
The Orchid Theory
A dandelion will grow anywhere – in the cracks of the pavement, in an empty field or in a thriving back garden. An orchid, on the other hand, needs the right light, temperature and humidity level. They have special watering requirements. Once you meet these conditions an orchid needs little additional care to flourish.
Children are the same: there are dandelion children who bounce back from adversity and can handle the hurdles in their way and orchid children who are far more sensitive to their environments.
“…..dandelion children—equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes—do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.”
Genes or Environment
Research relates this theory of orchid children to the gene DRD4-7R. It’s the same gene associated with the risk of mood and behavioural issues – such as antisocial behaviour, drinking problems, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression. That’s the bad news.
However, the good news is that research bears out that these orchid children, whilst indeed wilting in bad environments, respond well to warm, engaged parental care.
“With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.” David Dobbs – The Atlantic
Resource Tip: The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive by W Thomas Boyce
Get a copy at:
What Does a Highly Sensitive Child Need?
Given the idea that providing the right conditions can be the difference between an orchid child wilting or blooming, our goal as parents of a HSC surely must be to determine what our HSC needs to thrive.
How do we do that?
It’s not about protecting them (you may need to overrule your instinct on this one) but more about preparing them.
Sure, you can take some stressors away – such as incredibly noisy environments (using noise cancelling headphones for example), scratchy, uncomfortable clothes, over-scheduled days. But you can also prepare them for potential challenges.
You can help them face situations that will make them uncomfortable or overstimulated. You can identify possible problems together and talk about solutions. Let your HSC know that you believe they can handle a situation and you know they will be okay.
Our role is to give our HSCs an imaginary rucksack full of tools to help them in situations they find difficult to navigate. We are not looking to change our children, and we certainly are not able to change the world around them. We need to help our HSCs cope in the first instance, and then flourish as they learn to master the tools we help them acquire.
So one of our primary jobs is to work out what our HSC needs to flourish as they grow into a school age child, a teenager and ultimately an adult.
It Gets Easier
There’s a reason I am writing this post today. My eldest son started secondary school last week. He has gone from a two minute walk to get to school to a 45 minute bike ride.
He has gone from a small village school with 70 children to a school with over 1500 students. He knows no one else in his new class.
His safe, trusted and known environment has gone. He was one of the eldest in primary school and is now one of the babies in secondary school.
He sat in one classroom all day with one of two teachers and now switches every 50 minutes to a new room and a new face in front of the class.
Everything is new. Everything is different.
It has all the makings of a HSC’s worst nightmare.
How has he handled it?
So far, brilliantly. Way beyond my expectations.
How his first week has gone was unthinkable just two years ago. I stressed a lot back then about how secondary school would be for him.
However, for the past two years he has been in an environment which nurtured him, provided him with a safe place to step outside his comfort zone and dare to do things he wasn’t sure about.
His environment has given him the confidence and the precedent to tackle this new challenge with a positive attitude. He knows he has some tools at his disposal for this new adventure. He also knows he has a support system in place.
I know there will be struggles ahead. There will be hard weeks, even months. We will have homework struggles. There will be moments he no longer believes in his ability to cope with all the changes. There will be times he wants to throw in the towel and scream with frustration.
But I also know we have done everything we can to provide him with the tools and support he needs at this stage, and we will be there for him to remind him of the skills he has already acquired, and help him build up his tool supply in his imaginary rucksack.
Our journey to this moment has not been plain sailing. It has not been easy. But I want to share with you that it does get easier; once you understand what your HSC needs and you master the art of preparing rather than protecting.
When the conditions are right, an orchid child starts to bloom.
And when you see your HSC start to flourish it will make your heart soar.
*For your convenience, this post includes affiliate links to products and books I find useful for the HSK community. They cost you nothing more to buy, but I get a small commission.*