Creative Child

Six Things an Orchid Child Needs to Bloom

by Rebecca Eanes

Human development specialists Bruce J. Ellis of the University of Arizona and W. Thomas Boyce of the University of California, Berkeley wrote a paper in 2005 entitled Biological Sensitivity to Context which appeared in the journal Development and Pyschopathology. In this paper, they borrowed a Swedish term, orkidbarne, to name a surprising new concept in child development and genetics. Orkidbarne means orchid child, and describes children who are genetically sensitive. Unlike their counterparts, maskrosbarne, or the dandelion child, who are more psychologically resilient, orchid children are heavily affected by their home environments and the parenting they receive. In a bad or negative environment, orchid children quickly wither, but in a positive environment, they not only survive but, as the authors put it, they grow into “a flower of unusual delicacy and beauty.” If you’re parenting one of these sensitive souls, here are six tips to help your orchid child bloom.

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1. Acceptance

Sensitive children must be accepted for who they are, and their sensitivity should be viewed as strength rather than weakness. It is not our place to “toughen them up,” for they are exactly as they should be. Our job is to help them develop the resilience they need to thrive and grow well while maintaining their beautiful sensitivity. We must be careful not to complain about the child’s sensitive nature or make them feel as though it is a negative trait which will harm their developing self-concept. When we view their sensitivity as positive – like a superpower – and accept them just as they are, they will learn to accept and love themselves for who they are as well.

2. Advocacy

Sometimes, we must step in to be the advocate for an orchid child. If we see that a situation, person, or environment is negative and “too much” for them to handle, we should step in to protect them. The problem could be a well-meaning friend or relative who teases him about his sensitivity, a punitive school environment, or even a parent who is too harsh with the child. Whatever the case, we must advocate for our orchid children until they are able to set personal boundaries and advocate for themselves.

3. Personal Boundaries

Karen Young of the website Hey Sigmund defines a boundary as “a line between what is me and what is not me; between what they think and what I think. With a strong boundary, there’s an acceptance that just because they think it/feel it/say it/do it/ doesn’t mean I have to as well.” It’s important to arm the orchid child with the knowledge that she is always the boss of her boundary. She never has to stay around people who make her feel bad, and she always reserves the right to get out of a friendship or relationship that she feels is toxic. Role play situations with her so that she feels comfortable with what to say and how to exit a situation that makes her uncomfortable.

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4. Low-Stress Environment

Sensitive children really need positive, calm home environments which serve as a respite from the often too-loud, too-chaotic world. Families can create a low-stress home by practicing positive communication skills, having predictable routines, fostering positive sibling relationships using gentle discipline, and ensuring parents are parenting on the same page. I recommend this article on creating a peaceful home for more specific help in this department.

5. Gentle Discipline

Orchid children do best with gentle correction as this is really all they need. Because they are so intuitive and in tune with the emotions of those around them, they want to make people happy. They make mistakes like all kids and people do, but harsh reprimands and punishments won’t serve these sensitive children well. Read my article on disciplining the sensitive child for a more in depth discussion of the topic.

6. Emotional Support

Sensitive children experience emotions deeply, and they need the space to cry. Tears provide a way to melt frustrations and build resiliency. Orchid kids experience high highs and low lows; we have to move past our own discomfort with strong or heavy emotions as parents in order to support our children through theirs. It’s important to remember here that all emotions are valid, even the uncomfortable ones like anger, sadness, and disappointment.

Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of multiple books including Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother. She is the grateful mom of two boys. 


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