What’s the difference between them?
The work of Dr W Thomas Boyce has shown that children have two very different responses to their environment. Around 80% of children are like dandelions (hardy, resilient) and thrive in most environments and the other 20% are like orchids (sensitive, susceptible, fragile) who require a particular environment to thrive, just like the flower.
To fully understand the difference in behaviours of orchid and dandelion children it’s helpful to look at some of their biological differences:
1. Orchid children are very aware of their surroundings and parents often report that orchid babies were highly alert from the start. They seem to take everything in, notice minute details and struggle to shut their mind down at bedtime.
2. Orchids also seem to respond differently to stress and require more co-regulation from parents or caregivers through soothing and proximity. Parents of an orchid child often report that they are very quick to react, going from 0-100 very quickly when distressed and scream when they are put down. They experience more intense separation anxiety, are more sensitive to sensory stimulation (bright lights, loud noise, textures, smells etc) and feed frequently using breastfeeding as a means to regulate.
Another key feature of orchids is that they struggle with sleep in the following ways:
– Orchid children often require more assistance to fall asleep as they struggle to shut things down in their head. It is harder for them to get into a deeper sleep and this can result in frequent night waking and short naps. Finding ways to help calm their brain before sleep such as a massage, pink noise or guided meditations can help.
– They are often clingy and prefer contact naps, co-sleeping and bed-sharing. This can include a side-car cot, a larger floor bed and combining beds to make a larger family bed and is a great way of increasing sleep for everyone.
– Orchid children seem more fearful, they are quick to detect a threat and react with stress. This means they don’t feel safe and can result in difficulty falling asleep and needing parental presence at bedtime and through the night for longer.
– They are quick to stress and if they go to bed feeling stressed or anxious they are more likely to wake up frequently in the night. It is helpful for parents to take some time to work out what might be stressing their child out in order to reduce it.
– Orchids can also struggle to feel comfortable making them restless and difficult to settle down at bedtime. Parents can try to address any common sensory concerns such as being too hot, too cold, turning the TV off, removing bright lights from the bedroom, checking pyjamas for itchy labels and using a background noise such as pink noise.
Sleep with an orchid isn’t easy but when parents understand the reasons why their orchid child is struggling it helps them be more realistic with their expectations which can make a big difference. Parenting an orchid is a super-marathon, but remember under the right conditions an orchid can flourish beautifully.
I have recently completed training on orchids and dandelions with Tracy Cassels PhD, founder of Evolutionary Parenting which is where much of this information has come from.