Do you have an Orchid or a Dandelion?


3 April, 2020


Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking to many parents about the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s mental health. Some have asked why one of their children is far more effected than their others, other parents are concerned that their child doesn’t seem at all concerned about the pandemic.

In my response to them I recall a metaphor developed by Dr Thomas Boyce where he compares children to dandelions and orchids. In it, Dr Boyce estimates about 20 per cent of children are “orchids”. They are the ones who are more sensitive and reactive to environments, this is most likely due to a combination of biological and environmental reasons. The rest are “dandelions”, being pretty resilient and generally manage things as they happen.

If you have an orchid, he or she may be struggling more than usual right now. Dr Boyce’s research shows that orchids thrive on regular routines which have certainly been upset over the last few weeks. So, what can you do to best support your orchids (and reassure your dandelions) right now?

Talk openly about what is happening: Yes, there have been changes but there are many things that have stayed the same. List these things. By doing so they can see that you do understand and that they are not the only ones feeling that things have changed.

Create a daily schedule: Orchids, in particular, thrive on routine and predictability but all children respond well to schedules detailed or not. Plans don’t need to be elaborate, just provide some structure into their day.

Work on your own anxiety: There is so much advice out there about how to do this. The truth remains however if you are feeling or showing anxiety it will leach out into your interactions with your children. You can help them best by helping yourself first.

Teach children mindfulness techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation where you tense and release groups of muscles can be very helpful. Mindfulness is a scientifically proven way of managing anxiety. Take a look at the free Smiling Mind app for guided meditations.

Kylie Wolstencroft
Wellbeing Coordinator / Registered Psychologist

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