Temperament: Orchid children are known to have “high emotional reactivity,” writes school psychologist Dr. Jessica Koehler. Their fight-or-flight instinct is easily triggered—but so is their capacity for joy. These kids tend to be super sensitive, hyper-vigilant, anxious and “fragile.” Their reactions to mundane events—or even sad movie moments—can seem off-the-charts extreme. Little deals feel like big deals to orchids: Orchids are “exquisitely sensitive to their environments, especially vulnerable under conditions of adversity but unusually vital, creative, and successful within supportive environments.” Feeling everything so deeply can be both a blessing and a curse. And it is not all that unusual. Experts suggest up to 20 percent of kids are orchids.
Tips: Not surprisingly, highly sensitive orchid children require careful tending in order to bloom. But under the right conditions, they grow up to be exceptionally beautiful. Their creativity, empathy and sensitivity are gifts, not liabilities. Experts advise accepting your orchid child for who he is and making sure he knows you do. Don’t criticize his orchid ways or try to change him. Embrace the upsides of life in the hothouse: You will never be bored! Writes developmental psychologist Dr. Dona Matthews: “Orchid children do worse than others in bad environments, and do better than others—across a variety of cognitive, academic, and health measures—in optimal environments. If you’re the parent of an orchid, you have a heavy responsibility to get it right while you have the chance.” Pressure much? Here’s the thing: You have to balance sheltering your orchid with exposing him to natural elements so he can grow. He needs to face some adversity in order to gain life skills. Anticipate that highly stimulating or new social situations may make him anxious—but don’t automatically avoid them. (If a birthday party at a crowded arcade sounds like your personal parenting hell, you may be raising an orchid.) Prepare him by talking through a plan for what to do if he becomes overwhelmed (seeking out quiet spaces, sitting down and having a cup of water). If possible, look for smaller, more nurturing school settings. Most of all, tune out anyone who accuses you of being a helicopter parent. Writes Koehler: “It is far easier to be self-righteous about parenting if you have dandelion children.” Amen.