Orchid Children and Dandelion Children

Have you heard about orchid and dandelion children? Do you know what makes them so special? In this article, we’ll talk about their peculiarities, focusing on how they generate difficulties and benefits for them.
Orchid Children and Dandelion Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 18 September, 2023

Children are fascinating. If we, as those who educate and love them know anything about them, it’s that they seem to come into the world with their own personalities. We often talk about the influence of the environment on them, but it’s clear that there’s also a part dictated by genetics that marks their attitudes to life.

Some little ones aren’t too affected by change and look at the world with passion and interest. On the other hand, there are slightly more sensitive children who respond with fear, tears, and stress to almost any circumstances. Sounds, the proximity of a stranger, or even being in a place they don’t know makes them uneasy.

Science has been interested in this phenomenon for decades. Dr. Thomas Boyce, professor emeritus of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, has dedicated his life to the study of childhood stress. After many analyses, interviews, and studies, he formulated his interesting theory about orchid children and dandelion children.

No matter what a child’s characteristics, they can thrive and be happy. However, we need to know their individual needs.

Winking boy symbolizing orchid children and dandelion children
Each child is unique and has a way of coping with stress.

Orchid and dandelion children

As parents and educators, we must understand that each child is unique, exceptional, and defined by their particular needs. That said, often, in matters of upbringing and education, we tend to go on autopilot, assuming that what’s good for one child is good for all. This is a mistake. There are orchid children and dandelion children and we need to know how to deal with both types.

Dr. Thomas Boyce has been studying the stress response in humans for more than 40 years. He’s frequently observed that some people who’ve been through a terrible childhood still manage to have a full life, without any consequences. How can this happen when others carry with them the weight of deep trauma that distorts everything in their lives?

In his book The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive People Struggle and How All Can Thrive (2020 ) he gives us the answers. First of all, he claims that children show two extremely different responses to their environments: either resilience or sensitivity. Moreover, their origins are genetic.

According to studies by Dr. Thomas Boyce, 80 percent of children are ‘dandelions’, resilient little ones who are good at managing stress. On the other hand, 20 percent of children show a high sensitivity to change and the stimuli that surround them.

The dandelion temperament: minds capable of thriving in any environment

Beyond the environment, upbringing, and social context in which the child develops, is their biology. Genetic factors determine whether they’re more or less resistant to stress. Later in life, they learn appropriate strategies to deal with adversity. It gives them an advantage similar to those who come into the world with this ability.

Dr. Thomas Boyce and Bruce Ellis conducted a study that claims we’re all defined by a type of biological reactivity to stress. In this case, the so-called dandelion children are the most resilient. These children demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • They have a curious nature and like to interact with their environment without too many fears.
  • They’re extroverted, not particularly anxious, and inclined to take risks.
  • They handle stress well and don’t overreact to change.
  • They’re extremely active and guided by the desire to learn and interact.
  • They don’t see danger anywhere.
  • They’re extremely lively and cheerful.

Dandelion children have higher genetic buffers which make them more immune to environmental stress.

Orchid children: sensitive little ones with great potential

One-fifth of people don’t have a choice about how to react to stress. This means it’s important to know how to differentiate between orchid and dandelion children. It allows us to provide adequate strategies to the former so that they can reach their full potential and better adapt to any environment.

  • From a biological point of view, small orchids show a greater vulnerability to stimuli. They’re affected by their diet, sounds, lights, any small changes, and, above all, the social environment that surrounds them.
  • They magnify any situation, seeing it as threatening.
  • They have a tendency to suffer from diseases such as asthma and disorders like anxiety, depression, etc. to a greater degree.
  • A negligent upbringing in which shouting is frequent, and a lack of affection and security is highly traumatic for these children. Obviously, this is also the case for almost everyone, but the orchid child, as defined by Dr. Boyce, is likely to develop more illnesses and mental disorders in the future.
  • Although they’re more sensitive to negative aspects, they also experience any positive event really intensely. They flourish in happy, safe, and nurturing settings and ‘wither’, so to speak, in the face of even minimally stressful situations.

Some children are like orchids. They’re reactive, delicate, and sensitive to their surroundings.

  • Parents playing riddles with children symbolizing orchid children and dandelion children
    Sometimes, in the same family, there may be siblings with orchid temperament traits and dandelion temperament traits.

Better education implies knowing the needs of each child

There’s one frequent criticism in relation to the theory of orchid children and dandelion children. It’s the fact that, in reality, children with a combination of both temperaments are more abundant. They’re the so-called tulip children, located at an intermediate point between fragility and resilience. However, be that as it may, there’s one indisputable piece of evidence that emerges from these approaches.

It’s the fact that a genetic variable exists that we can’t control, and that defines the way in which children react to their environment. Some are more open and trusting while others are more vulnerable to stimuli. Consequently, knowing the particularities of our children is extremely important. Then, we can educate them accordingly, in a sensitive, intelligent, and attentive way.

If you think you have an orchid child, help them to feel more sure of themselves in every circumstance. Don’t pressurize, overwhelm, or judge them. On the other hand, dandelion children are more open to experience and impulsive. So, if you have a dandelion child, try and make them see the need to be more thoughtful and prudent.

Beyond these characteristics, we must never forget that all children need to be loved and protected in order to flourish. Therefore, we should always try and be the best possible gardeners in their upbringing.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Boyce Thomas (2020) The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive People Struggle and How All Can Thrive. Bluebird
  • Boyce, W & Ellis, Bruce. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary-developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity. Development and psychopathology. 17. 271-301. 10.1017/S0954579405050145.
  • Slagt, M., Dubas, J. S., Deković, M., & van Aken, M. A. G. (2016). Differences in sensitivity to parenting depending on child temperament: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 142(10), 1068–1110. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000061

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.