HEART-MIND 2014: On Orchids and Dandelions

By Matthew Clarke 

On day 2 of the conference, the afternoon opened with a presentation by W. Thomas Boyce. His talk was based on studies he has done which he poetically dubbed, “The Orchid Child vs. The Dandelion child.” 

The Dandelion child is the kind of child that is naturally resilient and manages to thrive regardless of the environmental condition. The Orchid Child is the child who is far more sensitive to their environment (Neurobiologically responsive), and can thrive or perish based on their surroundings. He also noted that these two types of children naturally fall into the social structure as dominant or subordinate, and that happens even as early as kindergarten.

He used the example of himself and his sister, noting that he himself has had a “shamefully fortunate life,” filled with professional and personal success and fulfillment, whereas his sister had an incredibly difficult life filled with struggles, mental illness and which tragically ended in suicide. He was compelled to understand how two children from the same parents and the same home could have such drastically different fates. Especially, in this case, where Socio-Economic Status, the prevailing wisdom for success inequality, was not a factor.

He did a study where he observed a group of Dandelion children as well as a group of Orchid children. They then offered both groups varying levels of care and attention, from very little to a lot. The Dandelion kids did essentially just as well with or without the attention. The Orchid children on the other hand showed drastically different results. As expected, without the attention, they struggled enormously, coming in much lower than the Dandelion kids. However, to their surprise, when given the proper attention, the Orchid Children far outperformed the Dandelion kids. I found that fascinating because it felt so precarious. Like these children are destined for greatness or hardship based entirely on where they sit on the social ladder.

Now of course there’s no way to “cure” the orchid children, nor is it feasible to eliminate naturally forming social hierarchies. There is, however, a way to cancel out the effects of these inequalities: Egalitarianism. In his studies, the more egalitarian the classroom and parenting, the more equal the performance between the Orchid kids and the Dandelion kids. To me this is extremely important because every child should have the equal opportunity to thrive, regardless of his/her natural disposition. Kindness to all children results in them all having that chance. “To tame the savageness of man & make gentle this world.”

To be continued

Matthew Clarke is a Vancouver-based filmmaker, songwriter, musician, writer, father of two awesome children, and a proud out -of- league husband.  His latest short web-series, "Convos with my two year old," has become an internet sensation in it's first season and is available on YouTube .






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