Guest post by Tracy Cassels, Ph.D
If you know that you have one, you’ll know why I often warn families to “buckle up because you’re in for a ride”.
Why? Because these children are not quite like any of the other kids you’ve seen around or perhaps even raised. Sometimes you can’t help but wonder what exactly you’ve done (wrong?) that can make things so freaking hard… yet also so very rewarding.
How does this child who can meltdown in a second with the best of them also be one of the happiest and attuned kids you’ve met?
This is just one of the complexities of the orchid child and why parenting these kids is something people really don’t understand unless they’ve been there themselves.
This is why all the advice people give you not only doesn’t work, but you almost know it won’t work right off the bat.
Cry-it-out? I just know in my heart that my child not only wouldn’t sleep better, but probably would never stop crying either.
Punishment? I’ve tried and it just seems to devastate my child in a way that I’m not comfortable with.
The quick daycare drop-off? They say my child will just adjust but it’s been months and we’re still at the crying stage and my child clings to me like their life depends on it unless I’m there for a while before leaving.
These are just some of the normal things that parents of orchids experience and for many, they turn to the same question: What did I do?
The answer? NOTHING!
Well, perhaps not truly “nothing”, but nothing wrong at least, even though parenting may now be much harder. So many people who have an orchid child really don’t quite understand what this means for the child or for them as parents.
Because you’ve given birth to a child you can help thrive or whither in a way most other parents won’t experience, it’s imperative you get to know what this means for you and your child going forward.
If you’re like most parents of orchids, you weren’t warned this was a possibility and you’ve probably noticed just how different your child is to others, but you keep being given the same messages and tools that don’t seem tailored to your child. The issue for many of us who find ourselves in this situation is what to do about it.
I believe there are three main messages that you need to take home as parents as we relate them to the specifics we face with our orchids. (And full disclosure: I, myself, am raising on orchid child – as is Tracy the founder of Raised Good – so we are right there with you!)
Message #1: “Good enough” is not necessarily enough
This is the hardest message to share because it’s the hardest to receive, but for our orchids, sometimes “good enough” isn’t actually enough. I have actually read articles from people who say that as long as we don’t abuse our kids or neglect them, even orchids will be fine. The problem is that the research really doesn’t back that up.
They are so sensitive to their environments that we must be far more aware and serve to buffer if needed.
Now, sometimes “good enough” is good enough, but that would be because the rest of the child’s environment is so good that you don’t have to be better than it to help them thrive. However, if your child struggles at daycare, school, in a neighbourhood that they feel stressed in, and so on, you will likely need to be better than good enough in order to counteract those specific negative elements of their environment that can take a large toll.
This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes – we all will – but we just have to learn from them a little faster and respond to them in the right way for an orchid. I do believe the key difference for orchids is not in never making a mistake, but in how we respond to these mistakes. Ignoring or glossing over them will be a far cry from “good enough” for them.
Message #2: You have to work on yourself
The day-to-day struggles you will face with an orchid can seem utterly overwhelming and you will need to be sure that you are bringing your A-game. If you aren’t, you will likely fall prey to the triggers that will result in the suboptimal parenting we need to minimize. In fact, because our orchids are some of the highest of needs kids with some of the biggest emotions and reactions, we can be triggered far more than other parents and run the risk of spending far too much time in the suboptimal zone. It seems rather unfair that the parents who need the most leeway because of the inherent difficulties they face get the least, but there you have it.
Whatever you need to do to remain calm and present and aware is essential.
Many parents find mindfulness and/or meditation helpful. I admit I’m not actively doing either of these, but I find speaking my perspective-taking process out loud quite helpful (a type of “self-talk” tool that may even be considered a bit of mindfulness). I also admit to my mistakes with those I trust so I can better get it off my chest, be forgiven, and then mentally be ready to learn from them.
Perhaps the most effective tool I’ve had is to simply stay quiet until things are calm. If I can remain quiet, it gives my heart and brain time to get back in sync and my response will always be more appropriate and better reflect the needs of my kids in the moment than when I accidentally speak too soon. Now I should add that just because I’m not speaking, doesn’t mean I’m not there. I am there physically, but verbally I keep quiet.
Message #3: It’s never too late
One of the more heartening things that I have seen in the research is that although the early years are so crucial in so many ways, it’s not all a lost cause if we haven’t been the type of parents to an orchid we need to be. At any stage if we can become better, it will benefit our orchids. The thing that is harder when it’s later down the line is that we often expect it to be quick, because we want these difficult times to end, when in reality it’s actually going to take longer to see the positive effects.
The more developed a child is, the harder it is to change and if there have been negative events, it can feel even harder.
Think of it like if you started with half a tank of gas and didn’t know you were supposed to fill the car so eventually you get really low. You would first have to fill it to half before you could get to that full tank. This is what happens when we shift an environment – we have to get back out of the negative to baseline before we can create the positive and this takes time. But I promise you, it’s worth it.
Although parenting an orchid is hard, it isn’t impossible if we can keep these messages in mind. We may not ever parent like those who are parenting non-orchids, but that’s okay because that’s not what our children need from us.
About the Author: Tracy Cassels, PhD is the director of Evolutionary Parenting, a resource she founded in 2011 after the birth of her daughter Maddy. She has a B.A. in Cognitive Science from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology, also from the University of British Columbia. Tracy runs multiple courses including Raising Orchids (A course on Highly Sensitive Children) and Sharing Control (A course on Gentle Discipline). She also offers parent consults. Tracy is a speaker at the Raised Good Online Summit, where she will speak more about raising orchid children.