Some children are extra sensitive to parenting style, bad and good

Posted on November 28, 2016

Photo: flickr

Just over ten years ago, a fascinating journal article argued that some children are like orchids – they don’t just wither in response to a harsh upbringing, they also flourish in a positive environment, unlike their “dandelion” peers who are less affected either way. Since then, research into this concept has exploded. A new meta-analysis in Psychological Bulletin usefully gathers all that we know so far about one key aspect of this – the associations between children’s temperament (the forerunner to adult personality) and the way they respond to different parenting styles. The results suggest that those with a particular kind of highly emotional temperament are more likely to match the description of an orchid child.

Relevant research published prior to 2015 into the interactions between children’s temperament, parenting styles and various developmental outcomes, from behavioural problems to school performance were all surveyed by Meike Slagt and her colleagues.
Theoretically, there are three main ways that child temperament could interact with parenting style, and which was best supported by the available data has been the researchers’ concern.

It is high likely that some children are especially vulnerable to a harsh upbringing (cold and authoritarian), but not exactly affected by a positive upbringing (warm and authoritative). On the other hand, in line with the orchid concept, some children are more prone to the sensitivity of bad and good parenting. It may also be the case where some children with certain temperament, who especially benefit from a positive upbringing, but who are no more or less vulnerable to a negative upbringing.

Data collected supported the orchid concept as some children with a certain temperament seem to be especially sensitive to both bad and good parenting, suffering more when things are harsh, but they are also thriving more than usual in a positive environment. These children seemed to gain as much from a positive upbringing as they suffered from a bad one.

Child temperament is usually rated according to negative emotionality (similar to adult neuroticism, for example showing more fear and irritability), surgency (a little like adult extraversion – imagine an outgoing child who enjoys trying out new activities), and effortful control (similar to adult conscientiousness).
The meta-analysis found that children with high negative emotionality, though only when measured in infancy, not later in childhood, were especially likely to be more sensitive to parenting style, good or bad. There was also some evidence that children with a generally more “difficult” temperament (based on negative emotionality and certain aspects of surgency and effortful control), whether measured in infancy or later childhood, were also more sensitive to good and bad parenting.

The intriguing take-home message according to the researchers is that “the very quality that appears to be a frailty in [some] children may also be their strength, given a supportive parenting context”.


To read the full article, please click on link below.


Category(s):Child Development, Parenting

Source material from British Psychological Society


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