Is your kid a dandelion or an orchid? Here’s how to tell

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Is your kid a dandelion or an orchid? Here’s how to tell

Determining whether your children are hardy or sensitive to their environment can be a life changer

Rosa Silverman

Orchid or dandelion? It’s not a botanical conundrum, but a way to define those among us who struggle in tricky environments, and those who thrive – something W Thomas Boyce, a doctor of paediatric health at the University of California, San Francisco, has devoted a quarter of a century to exploring.

“Some children, like dandelions, show a remarkable capacity for thriving in almost every environmental circumstance they encounter,” he writes in The Orchid and The Dandelion, which made headlines on both sides of the Atlantic when published in 2019. “Other children, like orchids, are exquisitely sensitive to their environments, making them especially vulnerable under conditions of adversity, but unusually vital, creative, and successful within supportive, nurturing environments.”

If it sounds like self-help or pop psychology, it categorically is not. Behind these snappy labels lies an extensive body of scientific research, carried out across numerous groups and within a variety of settings. The results have been hailed as groundbreaking, for what Boyce found was a biological underpinning to these two personality types...

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