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Therapist explains ‘Orchid vs Dandelion Child’ theory and how kids react differently to trauma

Sometimes it really helps to have specific words to describe difficult experiences. Labels have their limitations, of course, but they can help prevent someone from feeling further isolated by a negative circumstance. After all, if there’s a specific phrase, analogy, etc. for what you’re going through or have gone through, then it can’t be all that uncommon. And if there are words to describe it, then there might be words to help navigate through it as well.

This is why hypnotherapist Judy Lee is sharing a term that she learned in grad school, one that changed her life and one she thinks can help others—particularly those who grew up in an abusive or unstable environment.

As Lee explains in a now-viral TikTok video, siblings who grew up in the same unsafe household often have starkly different reactions. One tends to be more resilient, while the other is more sensitive. This sensitivity manifests not only emotionally, but with certain sounds, foods (i.e allergies), certain fabrics…you get it.

“There always seems to be that sibling that does really well and the sibling that doesn’t do very well in an abusive environment,” Lee says in the video.

These are “dandelion children” and “orchid children,” respectively.

The terms, coined by pediatrician Thomas Boyce and psychologist Bruce J. Ellis, are fairly straightforward. As the names suggest, dandelion children are able to survive and even thrive under whatever circumstances befall them. Orchid children, on the other hand, wilt and wither without a good deal of nurturing, much like the orchid flower itself.

“At first glance, it seems that one is much more preferable than the other,” Lee says, referring to the dandelion child’s apparent benefits.

@theorchidchild why some siblings raised in the same traumatic environment can react differently #orchidchild #traumatok #wellnessjourney #emotionalintelligence #hypnotherapy #dandelionchild #developmentalpsychology #ancestralhealing ♬ Lift Me Up – From Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Music From and Inspired By – Rihanna

But as she explained, there is also evidence suggesting that if “an orchid child is removed from that abusive environment and grows up and is then replaced into a nurturing and nourishing environment, they can actually surpass their dandelion counterparts.”

Really, Lee’s point isn’t to suggest that one type is better than the other. It’s moreso to encourage folks who might classify themselves as orchids to “find a beautiful community to be a part of.”

She should know—she’s a thriving orchid child herself.

As Lee revealed in an interview with Buzzfeed, she had harbored resentment against her dandelion sister, who seemingly came out of their shared traumatic childhood unscathed. Highly successful, even. Lee, on the other hand, battled with both mental and chronic physical illness.

However, learning about these terms helped Lee understand her and her sister’s unique paths and strengths. It even gave her the name of her healing practice, The Orchid Child.

Since sharing her TikTok, Lee has been flooded with comments from people who felt like the terms validated their own experiences.

“My sister is an orchid and I am a dandelion. She suffered at my parent’s house. She is in a safe and happy marriage now, watching her thrive is amazing,” one person wrote.

“Cries in Orchid,” wrote another.” But also thank you for the glimmer at the end. It’s up to me who I’m around now.”

As Lee also pointed out to Buzzfeed, in reality, most children fall somewhere on the spectrum between orchid and dandelion. In fact, there’s a third term, “tulip child,” to describe a kid who falls somewhere in between the extremes. All in all these terms help to provide some nuanced context, rather than give a hard-and-fast diagnosis.

Here’s to all the dandelions, orchids and tulips out there. No matter how your upbringing caused you to grow, you’re all valuable parts of the bouquet.

If you’d like even more content from The Orchid Child, you can follow her on TikTok here.