Thriving Orchid Girl

My beautiful mother said something to me a while ago about when I was a child, something I had not heard in my 30-plus years.

Randomly, while out shopping for Christmas presents, she said, “you had sensory issues as a child, oversensitivity to stimulus in your environment…” And something about, “we had you tested. You were highly reactive and sensitive to your surroundings…”


And why am I only hearing about this now…

Shortly after this revelation about myself from the woman who raised me, I happen to hear a podcast while I was stuck in traffic, yet again, that piqued my interest.

It was on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” with Dr. Thomas Boyce, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Boyce wrote a book, “The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive,” describing his research on human stress response in children.

His research found two distinct categories of children based on their physical responses to different stress levels, which he equates to two kinds of flowers; the dandelion and the orchid.

Orchid children and dandelion children have different physical patterns of responses to naturally occurring adversities and distinctive degrees of sensitivity to everyday natural occurring stressors.

Dr. Boyce says,

“There were some children at the high end of the spectrum who had dramatic reactivity in both the cortisol system and the fight-or-flight system, and there were other children who had almost no biological response to the challenges that we presented to them.”

As Dr. Boyce points out most children are resilient and can cope with stress and adversity in their environments, but a minority of children, the orchid children, are more reactive and sensitive to both good and bad conditions and find it challenging to deal with stress.

The dandelion child physically handles stress much better than the orchid child. Dandelion children are resilient and can thrive in any environment. Like the flower, which can be seen poking through an accidental crack in the sidewalk.

In contrast, the orchid child, “often remarkable, but more sensitive” needs positive nurturing and support, and is sensitive to both good and bad environments. The children in this minority are more biologically reactive to the circumstances in their environment, which makes it harder for them to deal with stressful situations.

Like the delicate orchid flower, orchid children need a supportive environment to thrive and blossom beautifully under nurturing conditions.

From Dr. Boyce’s book,

“I think that this is probably the most difficult parenting task in raising an orchid child. The parent of an orchid child needs to walk this very fine line between, on the one hand, not pushing them into circumstances that are really going to overwhelm them and make them greatly fearful, but, on the other hand, not protecting them so much that they don’t have experiences of mastery of these kinds of fearful situations.”

It is not that the dandelion child is not affected by negative or stressful environments in their childhood, they are just less reactive to stressors, and have less sensitivity which increases their odds of thriving despite a naturally or unnaturally occurring adversity.

Basically, they are a hardy bunch.

Back to Christmas shopping and my mother’s number one coping mechanism; avoidance.

My mom is great at this. It’s like she has a degree in ducking out of uncomfortable situations and maintaining an illusion that everything is hunky-dory.

The reason I seek the truth in every significant area in my life may be a reaction to my mom sidestepping painful happenings from the past. For any topic — from politics to the inner dynamics of my intimate relationships — I like to get down to the absolute truth of the matter — the Knitty-gritty, this can be exhausting for the people in my inner circle.

I wasn’t surprised I was just learning this news, from my mother, about my inability to handle much stimulation and stress as a child, which only confirms my belief that my mom and I rarely have deep conversations, especially about my four siblings and my early childhood development. In this area, denial is critical.

We haven’t talked about it since.

But had I know about this apparent hypersensitivity to stress I displayed as a child, it may have helped me in some areas in life, especially during early adulthood when I was trying to figure out some stuff, as one typically does in their early 20’s.

I don’t know for sure if I’m an orchid child or a dandelion child, I would prefer to be like the dandelion, hardy, and able to survive, and even thrive in any stress-induced environment.

I do have those empowered dandelion moments in my life, when any stressor coming at me is handled with great ease and confidence, like a boss girl, or Oprah.

I also realize I’m no longer a child, I am a full grown-up ass woman, and I have decided to provide myself with the healthy environment I need to thrive whether for my dandelion self or my orchid self.