There is a way of thinking about people and personalities and resilience that has been the focus of some research lately. I will attach the articles to the end of this post so you can read more if you’re interested. The theory is that many children are like dandelions that can grow through a crack in the cement. They are resilient and will thrive in most any environment they are put in. It’s a way to explain the people you come across in life, which, despite years of trauma or hardship, are successful and enjoying their lives. These are people who might experience the same challenges that would level another person, but come out on the other side still whole and well.
On the other hand, there are children who are more like orchids. They are very sensitive to their environment. They are at risk of falling apart if conditions aren’t right for their growth. That falling apart can look like hostility, violence against self or others, addiction, or other risky behaviors, as well as clinical levels of depression, anxiety or even personality disorders. But, when those optimal conditions for growth are met, they will thrive and often shine.
So, take a moment and think. Are you a dandelion, or are you an orchid?
What about your child or children?
Your partner or spouse?
The importance of this theory is that we cannot change. We cannot transform from a dandelion into an orchid, or from an orchid into a dandelion. BUT, through acknowledging and paying attention to who we are and who our loved ones are, we can create optimal opportunities for growth.
If you know that your child is sensitive, you can prepare them better for experiences that may feel challenging. Sometimes that might mean arriving to a class or a party early so that you and your child are not walking into a room full of activity and sound. Sometimes it might mean talking a lot in the car about where you are going and what you might see and do. Often it means giving space for exactly who your child is and not expecting your child to adapt easily to your needs.
I often see parents struggle with this because they feel their own social pressure to have a certain kind of kid. The classic example of this is with a child who might be slow to warm. The instinct is to apologize for your child’s shyness or encourage them not to be shy. An alternative that as honoring of who they are is to say “Marcy takes a minute to warm up. We’ll stand here and look around for a bit.” Staying with your little one and appreciating their process, allows them to feel safe to explore as ready.
Other examples of acknowledging your child:
Knowing if your child is a morning person or not and respecting their needs for getting ready for a day.
Listening to the stories your little one is telling you. Helping them to process the things that might be worrying them, or events that have upset them.
Listening to your little one’s dreams and exploring them as feelings that are valid and meaningful. (more on this coming soon)
Allowing transitions to be child friendly, and more specifically your child friendly. If you know your little one needs more time, make sure you factor that in. If you know your little one needs lots of warnings, make sure you’re giving them. If your child needs to know the plan in advance, make that part of your routine. Help your child to feel secure in these times and they will thrive in the other times.
There are countless ways that kids have to adapt to an adult world. Sometimes that is just the reality of being a part of a family. But you may notice times when even the heartiest dandelion child can be orchid-like in their need for some reflective play and slowed down time. In order to give your child the best chance for success and inner strength, it’s important to acknowledge these times with extra care and nurturing. Slow down, let them direct the play, and try to let dinner/work/phone calls wait just a bit, while you attend to the heart of your child.
Raising a child is challenging. It is energetically draining and fraught with all sorts of opportunities to feel worried or guilty. The good news, in my opinion, is that often when you take this time to check back in and reconnect with your child, and shut down the noise in your head or in your life for a bit; when you take the time to attend to the orchid or dandelion in your life, you both walk away feeling better.