World O’ Words: Orchids and Dandelions

Extensive, groundbreaking research shows there are two personality types in children

“There are only two kinds of people in the world …” is a thing I always say. For example: Those who hate the Toronto Maple Leafs and those who love them.

Of course there are more than two kinds of people in the world — I know that. There’s billions of different kinds. But dividing the human material into an either/or is something we humans seem to do instinctively.

Never more so, it seems to me, than in these bifurcated times. The world divides into two camps. I call it the troll-snowflake world. You are either for something or ‘agin’ it. I hold this to be false dichotomy, and a gross over-simplification.

But as it turns out, there are really two types of people in the world, and it starts in infancy. And it is not a gross over-simplification, but a discovery of some important basic information.

In January of 2019, San Francisco pediatric expert Dr. W. Thomas Boyce published his years of extensive research identifying two basic personality types in children: About 80 per cent of children are resilient and hardy, and will adapt to their environment and generally thrive. Twenty per cent of children are sensitive and fragile, more susceptible to the stresses of their environment. These traits, Dr. Boyce argues, are biological.

Boyce refers to these two types, in his book of the same name, as “Dandelions” and “Orchids.”

Dandelions, as we are well aware, are hardy flowers that prosper in the unlikeliest of places, in spite of our efforts to prevent them. Orchids are those beautiful, intricate flowers that we tend with great care in our homes, or exclaim over in delight when discovering them in the wild, in secret, sheltered, forested places.

In terms of pediatrics, “orchid” children require that little extra nurturing to bring them into the world — parents and teachers walk a finer line with orchids than with dandelions. One shouldn’t push an orchid into an stressful situation that may overwhelm him or her, nor should one be overly protective, to prevent an orchid child from learning to master one’s fears or stresses. A comfortable routine is especially important in raising and educating orchid children.

The science and research behind Boyce’s conclusion leads us to greater knowledge. That one out of five children is biologically less well equipped to handle stressful situations should lead us all to a greater compassion.

But in our hyper-competitive world, my heart breaks for both dandelions and orchids, and I hope these terms don’t become weaponized in our current culture wars, as have become the terms “troll” and “snowflake.’ Much like our attitudes towards real dandelions in our lawns, I think we are suspicious of independent streaks in our children — and see any Huckleberry Finn elements in our kids as something to be discouraged. On the other hand, I would hope we would not be too impatient with the challenges the orchids face, the greater difficulty with dealing with the obstacles, or opportunities life presents. Many of us tend to see such sensitivity as a sign of weakness.

Who, who would blame the orchids for their sensitivity? I hope not me.

Both these types need support and encouragement to set them on their way to achieving their fullest potential. As a parent and so-called adult, I hope I have been able to show proper understanding and recognition of both, and I am glad to be made aware of these two traits so I can respond to the people of the world accordingly.

The book is: “The Orchid And The Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle And How All Can Thrive,” by W. Thomas Boyce MD.

And by the way, there are only two types of people in the world — those who love the Toronto Maple Leafs and those who love the Boston Bruins. I love the Toronto Maple Leafs, but whatever the opposite is of love, that’s how I feel about the Boston Bruins. By the time you read this (Thursday, April 11), the Leafs and Bruins will be tangling in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And, to misappropriate the phrase, it’s a series kind of like the orchids taking on the dandelions. I’m hoping the orchids will surprise me, but I don’t have any money on it.

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