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The Orchid Child

Last month a great article written by David Dobbs was published in The Atlantic. It discusses research in genetics that is exploring the idea of “orchid children.”

This research contends that those children who struggle the most in early childhood – have the most tantrums, “negative” behaviors, are highly sensitive, willfully rejecting guidance and limit-setting, have the capacity to grow up to be society’s most extraordinary people….if given the right environment to grow and thrive. These are the “orchid” children.

 “Most of us have genes that make us as hardy as dandelions: able to take root and survive almost anywhere. A few of us, however, are more like the orchid: fragile and fickle, but capable of blooming spectacularly if given greenhouse care. So holds a provocative new theory of genetics, which asserts that the very genes that give us the most trouble as a species, causing behaviors that are self-destructive and antisocial, also underlie humankind’s phenomenal adaptability and evolutionary success.  With a bad environment and poor parenting, orchid children can end up depressed, drug-addicted, or in jail—but with the right environment and good parenting, they can grow up to be society’s most creative, successful, and happy people.” 

 The article is fascinating, and worth the read. It also affirms what many parents with “hard” kids already know. They have very bright, creative, complex little people in their care that are often very, very hard to parent.

It can feel discouraging and hopeless sometimes, when you have been gifted with a child that won’t snuggle or interact or comply as easily as the rest in the playgroup…who always seems a bit “more.” We often go inward and blame ourselves for failings that feel insurmountable, and whither away from perceived judgment of other parents who don’t understand. It is rough…and lonely, to parent an “orchid” child.

But this research gives another perspective. Kids who are highly sensitive or challenging to parent in childhood have incredible opportunities ahead, if we can nurture them while they grow. We aren’t just helping our “hard’ kids survive, we are growing them to be extraordinary human beings.

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/dobbs-orchid-gene