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Helping your anxious child



Some children are more “orchid” than “dandelion”

Helping your anxious child


Since the pandemic began, much has been said and written about the resiliency of children. As we edge up on the yearlong mark of living with, and learning about, the effects of Covid-19 and isolation, the good news is that children are, on the average, tougher than many thought.

However, according to New York Times writer Jessica Grose, about 20% of children are more sensitive than most, more prone to anxiety. Grose cites pediatrician and researcher Dr. Thomas Boyce, M.D, who uses the metaphor of the dandelion and the orchid. According to Dr. Boyce, most children are “dandelions,” i.e. they can bounce back from stress, and even thrive in harsh environments. But about one in five are “orchids,” meaning they show “great sensitivity and susceptibility to both bad and good environments.”

The reasons for these traits may be either nature and nurture, or a combination of both. The most important question, however, is: what to do with these orchids? How do we help them deal with being delicate and sensitive?

READ MORE: How to recognize stress in your child

Dr. Boyce’s research suggests that orchids thrive on routine. Of course, a hallmark of the pandemic is the disruption of routines for everybody. But if you can create new ones around the strictures of Covid-19, do so. 

It can help to label what’s happening. Sounds simple, but words matter, and making the effort matters to kids. Becky Kennedy, Ph.D., a New York City clinical psychologist, says, “With young kids, you can keep an ongoing list of things that have changed and things that have stayed the same,” she says. Create the list with your kids. Grose gives this example: “You used to go to a school building, that has changed, but you still have Mommy tucking you in every night, that’s the same.” This will make children feel less alone. Knowing someone is sharing the chaos can be helpful.

Maybe it’s a bit on the nose but: resolve your own anxiety. Abi Gewirtz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, says, “Our kids are brilliant emotional detectives of their parents.” Speaking for myself, I’ll just say: noted, thanks.

Grose cites the trend toward mindfulness techniques, and even offers a relaxation sheet for kids among other helpful links.

Finally, Grose says, create a schedule with pictures. This again gets back to creating predictability, and is particularly helpful for preschoolers who don’t yet read. Sally Beville Hunter, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, says making a schedule of images depicting the routine of the day this soothes these kids. “I don’t think having really detailed schedules is necessary or even helpful. It can be as simple as, here are four things we do every day”: breakfast, lunch, dinner, cuddles.

If you’re the parent of an orchid – or even if you’re not – we hope these tips help. 



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