The hardy dandelion pops up between sidewalk cracks, blankets well-trodden soccer fields, and finds its way into unsuspecting flowerbeds. This familiar, adaptable flower is also a symbol for unflappable children. Human development specialists Bruce Ellis and W. Thomas Boyce coined the term “dandelion child” to describe a low-reactive child, one often unaffected by stimuli that might agitate a more reactive child. Dandelion children are resilient, and can flourish in a wider variety of environments than their counterparts, the harder-to-cultivate orchid child.
Orchid children, like their exotic namesake, are highly sensitive to their environment. Too much adversity or social interaction can overwhelm them. They are much more likely to wither under undue stress, especially when their home lives are tumultuous. You might recognize these traits under a different name: introvert. In their paper, Ellis and Boyce point out that introverted children are not doomed to a life of anxiety. When properly nurtured, they can grow into “a flower of unusual delicacy and beauty.”
As the parent of an orchid child, there are quite a few ways to make sure your young introvert isn’t stifled by a stressful environment. Susan Cain, a powerful voice for introverts across the world and author of Quiet, an in-depth look at introversion, suggests these nurturing behaviors to help establish a good relationship.
Be aware of your child’s tendencies.
The most important thing you can do, as the parent of an orchid child, is to acknowledge your child’s introversion. Make a point of understanding how they differ from their more outgoing peers. This could mean keeping your child’s after-school schedule clear for recharging or talking with teachers to make sure there isn’t pressure to go so far out of a comfort zone in class that your child is traumatized.
Don’t force it.
Introversion manifests in important places—especially the classroom—and pressing a child to speak in front of class, volunteer answers more often, or frequently engage in group projects can be damaging. It’s important to ease orchid children into more extrovert-friendly situations, ensuring that they have the tools they need to be confident.
Orchid children are exceptionally sensitive to novelty, and need to be gradually introduced into new situations. If an orchid child is intimidated by their first day of school, dropping them off and trusting they’ll adjust won’t work. Instead, visit the classroom together before school starts, and introduce your child to their teachers before their first day. Taking things step-by-step and maintaining a controlled flow of new experiences can help avoid overstimulation and gradually inspire more confidence in unfamiliar situations.
Be a teacher.
The power of smiling, standing up straight, and making eye contact doesn’t start when your kid gets old enough for job interviews. Share social strategies that nurture confidence, and be certain not to scold. Share these behaviors as simple tricks for feeling happy and comfortable, rather than etiquette rules they’re obligated to follow.
If you were a shy kid too, share your stories and experiences with your child. If you’re an extrovert who still can’t quite get your head around social anxiety, is there another trusted adult in your child’s life (perhaps a friend or family member) who can talk with your child? Sharing their feelings with someone who can relate is a valuable experience for an orchid child.