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The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  676 ratings  ·  103 reviews
From one of the world's foremost researchers and pioneers of pediatric health--a book that offers hope and a pathway to success for parents, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and child development experts coping with "difficult" children, fully exploring the author's revolutionary discovery about childhood development, parenting, and the key to helping all children f ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 15th 2019 by Allen Lane
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Max McKay Not a denier. Understandable question, thought it seems like an odd conclusion to leap too. Here's an interview where the author answers your question…moreNot a denier. Understandable question, thought it seems like an odd conclusion to leap too. Here's an interview where the author answers your question...

Brett McKay: Now, listening to this, we’ve had guests on the show talking about autism. Some of these things sounds similar to autism. Is there a relation at all between this sensitivity and autism?

Tom Boyce: Well, orchid and dandelion are not, they are not diagnoses. They’re not diagnoses in the psychiatric sense of being a definable mental health disorder, but they do overlap in certain ways with some of the traditional psychiatric diagnoses. The one that you’ve point out is a good example. Sometimes children who are somewhere on the autism spectrum do have the same kind of hypersensitivities and the sensory modalities that do these children who we find in the laboratory are orchid children.

Brett McKay: Okay. That makes sense. That’s a good point to make. This is not, like this idea of like an orchid dandelion child is not… you can’t go to your child’s psychologist and be like, “Hey, is my kid an orchid child?” They’re going to be like, “That’s not a clinical diagnosis.”

Tom Boyce: That’s right.

From a podcast transcript you can find here:

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James Statham
Mar 04, 2019 rated it liked it
There is a good book in here trying to get out, but ultimately I found it disappointing. The Orchid (sensitive) / Dandelion (robust) analysis is an interesting one. I bought this book as I thought it might give me some insight into my own young children, one of who seems more sensitive to life's ups and downs than the other. Unfortunately, Boyce's book meanders around too much, giving long anecdotes about individual cases which were hard to relate to one's own experiences. At the end of it, ther ...more
Lynda Austin
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Heard a review of this book on NPR and even just the title was intriguing to me. As an sometimes inept, but eager gardener, the premise of children as “dandelions” or “orchids” was a metaphor that made sense to me. Reading the book with its vast amount of data and research did not deter me from finishing it. Instead, it made me put the book down periodically and just reflect on my own upbringing, and that of my children and grandchildren, also my parents and their parents. As someone who interac ...more
Mar 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to Maureen Corrigan interview pediatrician Thomas Boyce on NPR’s Fresh Air and was intrigued. In his new book, Boyce gives some reassurance and advice on how to parent “orchid children.” Boyce explores the “dandelion” child (hardy, resilient, healthy), able to survive and flourish under most circumstances, and the “orchid” child (sensitive, susceptible, fragile), who, given the right support, can thrive as much as, if not more than, other children. Truly, the same conditions that may ...more
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
As a parent with a textbook orchid child I have felt the deepest dread and anxiety over how the world will accept him and the greatest frustration at trying to teach him basic survival skills (like rules of conversation or how to eat with a fork instead of your hands). This book was an uplifting and hopeful relief for me. I worry for my son who is so sensitive, easily overwhelmed, does things his own way, and is often misunderstood and a target for bullying. I found in this book a place to relin ...more
Lena Rakhimova
Feb 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is an interesting research and help to understand high-sensitive persons. Dandelion mostly are stress-resistant and deliver stable average results. Orchids though in good environment and conditions deliver the best results which are high above an average score. They bloom in good conditions as a result, but in a bad environment or under the difficulties(which are above an average) they respond quickly and feel all hidden social changes which affects their own health.
 The main idea: it is for
Tim and Popie Stafford
A thought-provoking book based on child-development research. About 20% of children can be categorized as orchids--with a sensitivity to their environment that can throw them into a catastrophic spin, but also with a sensitivity to nurture that can, under good conditions, unleash remarkable potential. Boyce comes through as a very thoughtful, compassionate doctor who thinks deeply about how to help children thrive. The categories of orchid and dandelion I found very provocative. Like all categor ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was a tough one! It was filled with endless in-depth higher level medical jargon that I became bored with. Considered “a must read for all parents, teacher and psychologists,” I would beg to differ. I found some of Dr. Boyce’s studies fascinating, but hard to understand for a medically untrained mind. For these reasons, I do not recommend this book unless you are willing to put a lot of effort into understanding its content. I’m ready for something much lighter as my next book-my brain ...more
Sep 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I have never suggested a book more. I'd highly suggest this to any teacher. I think it is one that every teacher needs to read. It is written so that the average person can understand it and this book helps one understand themselves as well as understand others. It has to be one if if not the best book I have ever read. It is definitely the best non-fiction book I have ever read. I haven't taken so many notes in a book. ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
One part parenting book, one part crash course in epigenetics, fascinating throughout.
Agnes Roantree
⭐️ 3,0 stars ⭐️
I felt that it repeated itself and dragged out quite a bit, but I guess it was inevitable as the author tried to ease a lot of pain with this book and that's the form it took. Still, the book was somewhat informative and I will pay much closer attention to how I interact with children from now on.
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-finished
I didn't finish this, partially because I didn't feel drawn in by the central thesis, which struck me as pretty straightforward and maybe better presented in the format of an article. The anecdotes were amusing at times, though. ...more
3.5 stars
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
I couldn’t finish it. The physician writes in a haphazard way, and even as a physician I found the narrative hard to follow
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating read. If you are a teacher or a parent (especially one raising kids who seem particularly sensitive to their environment) I would recommend this book. Boyce, a pediatrician and researcher, explains that, while most kids are very resilient and able to cope with a less than ideal environment, others are highly sensitive. Those sensitive kids excel in healthy environments, but struggle disproportionately in difficult or stressful circumstances. He sites so many fascinating st ...more
Mark Dickson
Aug 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
I really liked the interview with Boyce on NPR, but found the prose so over-the-top-florid that it felt unreadable at times. This book could have been a great read at half the length and with less storytelling/editorializing.

As the parent of an orchid, and probably a dandelion, I found much of this helpful and hopeful, but at the same time there's a growing consensus that this is a false dichotomy, and there's more of a spectrum, with orchids and dandelions as the endpoints.
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really learned a lot from this book. So many of the author’s personal experiences mirrored my own, and I enjoyed his many anecdotes about the grown children from his research in the 1980’s.
Dragon Tran
Aug 09, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Strong candidate for 3.5 stars. Doctor and UCSF professor W. Thomas Boyce overviews a fascinating pool of research, about how widely different individuals' experiences of the world can vary based on the (sometimes epigenetic or intergenerational) nature/nurture wiring of their internal stress response systems. From an array of vivid, touching narratives, with the author's own children and those he studied, he makes a compelling entreaty for sensitivity to uniqueness, through an awareness of the ...more
John Chen
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
W. Thomas Boyce does a profound job of teasing out the intricacies of this analogy in clinical research while humanizing these narratives of orchid children. We see that his sister is a major centerpiece in his discourse and he uses his own personal research and life experiences to paint a picture of children's individual needs. This book is a great overview on the phenomena of the highly-sensitive child (orchid children) and the more typical unperturbed child (dandelion children). Both in their ...more
Zahida Zahoor
Nov 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
A verbose and repetitive book that could be edited to a quarter of its length. The author makes a point that resilient children (dandelions) and less resilient children (orchids) are: the outcomes of a complicated mix of genetics, epigenetics, parenting-style, environment, poverty, past family history and any trauma that is encountered and how this all links to the child’s mental and physical health. The book gives basic tips on what to do if you have on orchid including giving them the opportun ...more
Apr 07, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
The premise sounds interesting, and the reports on the data collection are definitely thought-provoking. There is a good book in here somewhere. I just can't get past the purple prose long enough to find it. ...more
M. Lynes
Really interesting opening few chapters but then it falls away badly. What it has to say is very worthwhile and interesting but the style is garbled. It moves from science to anecdote to advice in a meandering, confusing way. It’s insight is mixed with cliche and a sometimes patronising tone.
Nabeel Hassan
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
The Orchid and the Dandelion by W Thomas Boyce review – which are you?

Some people seem to have terrible childhoods and yet manage to thrive despite them. Others grow up in loving homes but suffer from mental and physical health difficulties, even if their siblings do not. Why?
Research shows that about 15 to 20 % of children experience well over half of the recorded psychological illnesses. The remaining 75 to 80 % are comparatively healthy. This pattern continues into adulthood, and appears to b
Nov 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I teach on the theories and empirical data underlying the differential susceptibility hypothesis and biological sensitivity to context. So, I was curious to read the more “popular press” version of this work. Unexpectedly, my response to “The Orchid and the Dandelion” moved far beyond scientific interests. I found it to be unexpectedly moving and at times, profound. As someone who also lost my brilliant, orchid sibling tragically and far too young, I empathize deeply with the author’s quest to u ...more
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. I first heard about it on WPR, and as a teacher of young children and a parent myself, I've always wondered why some kids are more sensitive to everything than others. When I heard the author describing his research, I was intrigued.

Basically, about 20% of all humans are very sensitive to their environment, meaning that react very strongly (with a lot of cortisol) to moderately stressful situations and in very loving nuturing environments, they absorb all that nuturan
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
I feel it is important to make a distinction between a book not being what you expected and a book being poorly done or not worth reading.

That said, if you are expecting a quick purely practical guide to tell what kind of kid you have, or get nuts and bolts advice about your own kid, this isn't that book, and it doesn't take long reading to tell that it was never supposed to be that book.

Boyce's research represents an entire new framework for understanding the relationship between nature and n
A surprisingly interesting and entertaining read! Most child development books tend to be dry and boring, but Boyce marries the best of science and storytelling. Not only are his central hypothesis and supporting research experiments clearly explained and easy to follow, but it’s all also just plain fun to read: preschool- and kindergarten-age kids are often wonderfully silly and absurd test subjects, and Boyce has a knack for pulling out the humor in those encounters. (In fact, I’d say it’s nea ...more
Megan Tarver
Oct 03, 2019 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book. I found some parts of it very enlightening and validating but I also was disturbed by some of the conclusions that were drawn. For me this book had a lot of fascinating scientific information but there was too much fluff. And as an orchid through and through I REALLY didn't appreciate all the negativity towards Orchids. Throughout the book there was just a lot of disdain and negative language towards orchids. Even in the poem at the end, dandelions are made of ...more
Hudd Huddleston
Jan 05, 2021 rated it liked it
These are more of my notes along the way so I can remember: I’m 1/3 of the way through... sometimes it gets pretty textbookish. Boyce goes into a lot of detail about how his studies are set up. I’m learning a lot of super interesting things though... 1 in 5 kids are orchids. Whether by birth or brought on by circumstances. And that 20% of children make up 50% of medical treatments for their age groups both physically and social emotional. Orchids in a negative environment typically have serious ...more
Dec 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I had read a short article about Dandelion/Orchid children, written by the same author, in Psychology Today. I am, and I have co-created, a family of orchids (though as Boyce states in the final chapter, they are on a spectrum) and was curious to learn more so I was very excited to get started on this book. While it was full of interesting research and I was impressed by the studies Boyce created and participated in, the tone was a little too removed for me, a little too clinical, and I didn't l ...more
Mar 25, 2019 rated it liked it
We all know that different children react to the world in many ways. The argument in this book is that most children are "Dandelions" and can thrive even in somewhat harsh circumstances. They are less sensitive and sturdier than their 'Orchid" counterparts. The interesting part of the argument is that the "Orchids" with a higher stress reaction and more sensitive consitution are either the kids who are the MOST likely to get sick and suffer from their surroundings or the LEAST likely. His theory ...more
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