Do you have an orchid or dandelion eater?

Some of you may have read or heard about the concept of “dandelion vs orchid” children in relation to highly sensitive children. This concept was created by developmental specialists Dr Thomas Boyce and researched by many others.

Orchid children are seen as genetically more sensitive and impacted more so than dandelion children by their environment. This TED Talk is a good place to start for a summary.

It got me thinking about the kids we see in our clinic with feeding differences, particularly those who are termed fussy or picky eaters.

Could these more cautious kids be orchid children? They fit the profile of having different sensory preferences to the dandelion children. Which made me ponder further about what they needed to succeed in their own way with their eating:

Orchid children do well when the environment around them is supportive to their needs. In fact when this occurs, these children actually thrive and do better than dandelion children. Translating to feeding, this means looking a child’s mealtime environment and ensuring we consider seating, all sensory needs, food preferences and even supportive neutral food language which is essential in helping these orchids decrease their fight/flight responses and then feel safe enough to explore new foods.

The work by Thomas and team encouraged parents to set regular routines so that orchid children knew what was coming up and could feel a sense of calmness with structure. In terms of feeding, mealtime structure can sometimes feel imposing but just like supporting children who have gone through trauma, a set mealtime routine can in fact help our orchids feel safe in knowing when the mealtime is and what will be offered.

Sometimes as a parent, we can feel worried about giving sensitive orchids small challenges but if we don’t, then they will never realise how brave they can be. The key is a challenge that needs to be at “just the right level” so that it builds confidence and competence without leading to failure. As feeding therapists, I encourage you to understand the importance of “just right” vs “not forcing or pushing” a child – it’s an important distinction when working with children in their building their level of confidence and autonomy around food.  

This one speaks to me so strongly because I have an orchid and a dandelion child in my home, both kids have different strengths and I often find myself pushing my orchid to conform to society and school expectations that in all honesty, were set up to help dandelion children thrive. So, to parents and therapists, I encourage you not to push an orchid child to conform to what is expected food wise and mealtime wise but instead lean into that orchid child’s strengths to empower them to understand their food preferences and increase their autonomy in understand what food they want to explore next and not what foods you think they should eat.  

Orchid food eaters have so many strengths, they smell more, feel and taste more than dandelion children. How powerful they can be in helping us tune into our senses. An orchid child years ago helped me realise that iron fortified bread has a different taste to regular white bread. I had never even noticed and still remember my light bulb moment with his suggestion. Let’s help these orchid foodies realise how brave and courageous they are to live in a world that doesn’t create environments where they naturally succeed but with our help, we can advocate alongside them to build a world that celebrates the sensitive, emotionally intelligent, and cautious food explorers that they are.

Stop making your orchid child eat like a dandelion child. They are 2 different children who will have different paths in life and that’s perfectly fine. Let’s instead help our orchids to understand their food preferences so they can feel empowered in knowing where to next in their food journey – you never know, they might just surprise you!

Wishing you enjoyable mealtimes


Let’s Eat! Feeding Therapy owner and director

BAppc. (Speech Pathology), MMedRes, PhD candidate

If you are keen to learn more about this theory, start with these references:

Boyce W. T., Ellis B. J. (2005). Biological sensitivity to context: I. An evolutionary-developmental theory of the origins and functions of stress reactivity. Development and Psychopathology, 17, 271–30

Ellis B.J., Boyce W.T., Belsky J., Bakermans-Kranenberg M. J., van IJzendoorn M. H. (2011). Differential susceptibility to the environment: An evolutionary–neurodevelopmental theory. Development and Psychopathology, 23, 7–28.

Kennedy, E. (2013). Orchids and dandelions: How some children are more susceptible to environmental influences for better or worse and the implications for child development. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry18(3), 319-321.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.