How Connected Parenting Can Help Orchid Children

kolari thumbnailAccording to the Orchid Hypothesis, popularized by David Dobbs in The Atlantic last year, a genetic predisposition to anxiety, depression, hyperactivity and behavioral problems may be better understood as a heightened sensitivity to both positive and negative environmental influences. Dobbs dubbed these hyper-sensitive children, orchid children who “wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.”

Last week, I spoke with Jennifer Kolari, founder of Connected Parenting, to find out how parents can create a positive environment for their orchid children.

Q: Do you ever encounter “orchid children” in your practice?

A: I would say that most of the children we see at Connected Parenting are orchid children who are incredibly sensitive to their environments, both physical and emotional.

One thing I’ve really noticed is that a lot of families have a nurturing stable home life and their children are still having trouble emotionally. Some kids are so sensitive that other people’s moods and energy levels can affect them. They often have enough trouble regulating their own emotions and they overreact to issues, tone of voice, even tastes or fabrics.

Q: What do you see as creating problems for these kids?

A: Because incredibly sensitive children can be frustrating and because they have a tendency to overreact, the messages they often get back from their parents are things like “you’re OK,” “it’s fine,” “Why are you acting this way?” The message is off – it doesn’t match what they are experiencing which can increase their emotional confusion and ability to organize what’s happening to them internally.

Q: So what can parents do to give their orchid children the positive environment that can be so beneficial to them?

A: One thing that’s really important is neutrality. Hyper-sensitive kids have a hard time dealing with other people’s emotions so you have to stay neutral when you are trying to parent them. You also need to make sure that you are setting loving limits and giving them messages of competence that they can and will get through whatever they are experiencing.

But the most important thing parents can do is to build strong bonds with their child using the CALM method I describe in my book. Using this method, which is really a therapy technique, parents “mirror” their child, matching their child’s affect and sending back the same message their child is sending them. Mirroring bypasses language and goes right into the part of the brain that regulates emotion and mood control and that’s the same part of the brain that is in control of bonding. When you mirror properly, you release reward chemicals, including oxytocin, in your child’s brain. Consistent mirroring helps with resilience and emotional organization and brings out the best in your child.

You can find out more about the CALM method and mirroring by listening to my podcast (courtesy of Penguin Group USA), or you could read my book 🙂

Q: What advice would you give parents of older children or teenagers?

A: It’s never too late. These techniques work even for adults. The brain remains neuroplastic so it’s never too late.

Other posts about orchid children:

New Theory Suggests that Overly Sensitive Children Have Over-sized Potential: Orchid Children,
More on Orchid Children,
Following the Orchid Children Discussion,
New Research Supports Orchid Children Hypothesis,
The Orchid Children Hypothesis: More Research

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Please remember that the advice given on this blog is not meant to replace medical advice or the direct advice of a mental health care professional.
"Connected Parenting advises us not just how to parent, but—far more important—who to be as parents. The therapeutic methods suggested by Jennifer Kolari are based not on simple-minded behavioural solutions, but on building warm, nurturing relationships with our children, with insight and compassion not only for their little flaws, but also for our own larger ones."
—Gabor Maté, M.D.

"A must read for parents, educators, and any other adults who want to connect in a deeply caring and positive way with the children in their lives."
—Barbara Coloroso