Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Orchid Children

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Orchids are tricky: they need just the right type of care to bloom. Water them too much (or too little), give them too little sunlight (or too much), and they wilt and wither. But with the right kind of care, orchids beautifully bloom – each in their unique way. Could the same be true for children?

A recent theory states that some children are “orchids”, while others are more like dandelions. Dandelion children are very sturdy: they need love, of course, but it doesn’t matter so much what specific care they get. Orchid children are much more sensitive: they notice the little things going on in the people and places around them – both the positive and the negative. Is one of these flowers better than the other? No, we need both of these types of flowers – and many more. Most likely, there are as many sorts of children as there are sorts of flowers! But the orchid-dandelion analogy is helpful in understanding why some children seem so much more difficult to parent than others – and why it is worth it to try and find the best way to care for each of these ‘flowers.’

Orchid children can be challenging because they are more vulnerable to negative influences. They 
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might have a more delicate temperament: even as little babies, they startle easily, cry a lot, and need a lot of soothing. They also might have genes that predispose them to certain patterns of behavior and emotions, such as problems with anxiety or defiance. But while orchid children are more vulnerable on the one hand, they also can bloom more exquisitely when they receive loving care and attention.

One group of researchers studied children that were easily angered – even at age 7 months – and compared them with children with a more mellow temperament. They found that anger-prone 15-month-olds were very willing to help their moms clean up some toys – but only if their moms had been responsive to their needs when they were 7 months old. The same children were extremely unwilling to cooperate with their dads – but only if they had an insecure attachment. If they felt secure with their dad, they eagerly helped him out! In other words: these challenging little children that easily became upset and mad were the most enthusiastic little helpers when they felt loved and connected with their parents!
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Another study found that 2-year-olds with a “difficult temperament” (who are very emotional and difficult to soothe) actually had fewer behavioral problems at age 3 than toddlers with an easier temperament – but only when their moms were very responsive to their needs. The same researchers also followed children until they were 10 years old. Again, the ones who were more vulnerable and prone to anger were the ones who were most willing to cooperate with their parents – but only if they had received positive parenting between 2 and 6 years of age. 

The bottom line? If you have a child that is particularly challenging and hard to parent, you may have an orchid child. It is likely that he or she will thrive all the more with loving support and positive parenting. Challenging? Certainly, but the rewards are worth it! 


More reading:
The Science of Success, by David Dobbs, The Atlantic:

Studies cited:
·         Kochanska G, Aksan N, & Carlson JJ (2005). Temperament, relationships, and young children’s receptive cooperation with their parents. Developmental Psychology, 41, 648–660
·         Kochanska, G., Boldt, L. J., Kim, S., Yoon, J. E., & Philibert, R. A. (2015). Developmental interplay between children’s biobehavioral risk and the parenting environment from toddler to early school age: Prediction of socialization outcomes in preadolescence. Development and Psychopathology,27(3), 775–790.
·         Kochanska, G., & Kim, S. (2014). A Complex Interplay Among the Parent-Child Relationship, Effortful Control, and Internalized, Rule-Compatible Conduct in Young Children: Evidence from Two Studies. Developmental Psychology, 50(1), 10.1037/a0032330.

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