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  • Simone Ellin

When you're an orchid...

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Recently, I was on a podcast The World Teacher hosted by educator Gareth Manning. Toward the end of our discussion Gareth mentioned an intriguing theory that classifies children by flowers. Maybe you've already read about it.

Based on my childhood experiences with bullying and exclusion, he suggested that I might be an orchid.

I wanted to learn more so I did some research. It turns out that the theory of orchids and dandelions came from the research of Dr. W. Thomas Boyce, a professor at University of California, San Francisco and the author of the 2019 book, "The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive," (Vintage Books).

In his book, Boyce posits that children fall into two categories: Some kids are born dandelions: they're naturally resilient, easy to parent and tend to do well in life regardless of their circumstances. Others are born orchids — they're highly sensitive — physically and emotionally, require a great deal of nurturing, and have difficult thriving unless they are "planted" in optimal environments.

Gareth was on to something. I am definitely an orchid. My mother reports that as an infant, I cried inconsolably; I cared about friendships and was rejection-sensitive by the time I was two; I was cued into issues of belonging and fitting in at nursery school; and by the time I reached second grade, I was convinced no one in my class liked me, despite evidence to the contrary.

My parents were kind and generous and they loved me tremendously. Yet, their own insecurities were in the soil, if you will. My mother was a hidden child during the Holocaust. Once she was reunited with her parents, she grew up in an atmosphere of fear, anxiety and trauma. My father didn't experience the Holocaust, but like me — he was born sensitive. He was premature and spent time in an incubator. His mother emigrated to America from Poland as a young girl to escape the pogroms.

My parents, both extremely smart, were massive underachievers, who were constantly berating themselves in front of me and my sister. How do you develop resilience and confidence when your own parents don't model those traits?

Being an orchid was a set-up for being bullied and excluded. Others could sense my fragility and they seized on it. Or as one girl put it: "When you're 12, you don't want to be anywhere near someone who's insecure."

Yet, being an orchid does have its benefits. Orchids are empathic, caring and creative. In the proper environments, they will blossom.

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