Are you a Dandelion or an Orchid? Resilience, by Dr Annie Swanepoel – Clinical Director CAMHS


Wouldn’t we all like to be able to bounce back if life has given us a kick? We know that some people are genetically more resilient than others. They are like dandelions, able to grow and thrive with the bare minimum. Others are more like orchids, sensitive and needing everything to be just right, or they will wilt. In the past, people used to think that dandelions were resilient and orchids were vulnerable. However, more recently, scientists have discovered that it is not about inherent resilience, but rather about inherent sensitivity to the environment. We know that the dandelions amongst us manage to do OK, regardless of whether they have a nourishing or harsh environment. We know the orchids struggle in difficult environments and may not cope – however, if a little orchid is placed in a nourishing environment, they outperform the dandelions. It is therefore not a vulnerability per se, but rather a sensitivity, which can be a great strength in the right environment.

Parenting is probably the most difficult job on earth. It entails 24/7 responsibility and care, 365 days per year. Just when parents get the hang of things, the child changes and the goalposts move. Babies, toddlers, children and teenagers all have very different parenting needs, yet parenting comes without a job description and without any induction or training. To top it all, it is entirely unpaid and actually costs quite a lot. So how can we make sure that all this effort is useful?

We know we cannot change our children’s genetic make-up, but we can influence the environment. Creating a positive atmosphere in which children feel that they are welcome and liked, is very important. Also, in order to develop the strength to explore and to learn to bounce back, children need the freedom to make mistakes, so that they can learn from them. We know that overinvolved helicopter parenting leads to children feeling like “snowflakes”: fragile, and melting with the first little bit of heat. Parents need to give their children a secure base from which they can explore. First give them roots, then let them fly.

This is easier said than done. A lot of the issues parents struggle with are universal and to do with child development and brain growth. A key piece of general advice is to focus on building the relationship in times where things are going well. Show your child that you are interested in them. This will make it more likely that they will be interested in what you think. Admit when you do not know something and apologise if you got it wrong – this is great modelling for children, who will then learn to do the same. Most of all, be kind to your children. They do not need to be perfect. Neither do you. Good enough is fine.

It is very important to note that children in psychiatric care are per definition little orchids. This means that we need to make sure that CAMHS services and inpatient units are kind, nurturing and supportive, to allow them to flourish. We often measure what is easy to measure, rather than what is important. We know that sensitive children who struggle, have the inherent ability to outperform their more resilient peers. Let’s make sure we give them the right nurturing environment to enable that to happen.

Potters Bar Clinic offers CAMHS Tier 4 Low Secure services for young people aged 13 to 18 with a wide range of disorders and complex needs. 
Our aim is to deliver, treat and empower each young person to live a safe and independent life and reach their individual potential.

We provide person-centred care that is tailored to meet each individual’s needs and to support them through their journey with us.