A renowned pediatrician uncovers what makes children thrive.
It’s an age-old question: Are we the product of nature or nurture? For Boyce (Pediatrics and Psychology/Univ. of California, San Francisco), the co-director of the Child and Brain Development Program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, the topic of human frailty has been more than just his field of study; it’s his calling. As he writes, his interest in the subject developed after watching his brilliant sister Mary succumb to psychotic symptoms marked by “hearing hostile, venomous voices and periods of catatonia.” How could two siblings who grew up in the same comfortable, safe environment with loving parents end up with such different life outcomes? One possibility: “a single, seemingly unerring environment is in fact not the same for each individual child.” Thus the concept of orchid and dandelion children was born. Orchids are those who, due to special susceptibility, may struggle through life, while dandelions seemingly thrive no matter their circumstances. Boyce argues that being an orchid is not all bad; given the right circumstances, orchids’ special sensitivities and strengths can result in remarkable gifts. “The very orchid children most likely to suffer and wilt when subjected to bad environments,” writes the author, “are the same children most likely to flourish, succeed, and prosper in settings of nurturance and care.” Citing exhaustive research studies conducted throughout his career, Boyce paints a compelling picture of how early childhood development and genetic makeup impact human life. Naturally, the book is full of medicalese, but for every set of data, the author backs up his work with conversational anecdotes, and his natural storytelling ability helps guide the book through the complex scientific sections. Though the book occasionally feels like a piece for a medical journal, the author’s findings are absorbing enough to keep readers engaged.
Boyce effectively reveals that whether orchid or dandelion, there is no such thing as “unbreakable children.”