Why is gentleness so important in mothering? Is it because children need to be raised by some sort of Mother Teresa Saint to have a good life?
Is it because only the Madonna figure is the true mother? No. It is because of children’s developmental plasticity.
In the west our over-hurried and frenetic engagement with children has led to them mimicking adult harshness at young ages but we should not allow this to confuse us.
Children’s developmental systems are vulnerable, immature and far more impacted by adult behaviour than adult systems are affected by children.
Sure, we can get annoyed, frustrated or even downright furious but our internal decisional mechanisms are not being shaped and molded by the child’s interactions.
On the other hand, the child’s basic view of life, automatic behaviours and internal sense of wellbeing ARE actively being shaped and carved by how adults interact with them.
Gentleness is important because it teaches safety and calm. The Buddhists would call it peace. Children would call it happiness.
As adults, how many of us engage in daily practices (from yoga to meditation to blog-reading) to try to give ourselves a measure of inner peace?
Well, the good news is that children are born with an innate preference for inner peace and enjoyment and if we nourish and protect this they gravitate naturally towards being this way. If we have trained them to be agitated and wound up we may need to untrain them before their natural preference for calm re-surfaces, but it is there nonetheless!
When we are gentle with children we transmit to them a high sense of their value and worth.
Gentleness shows that we see them as beings of great value and this nourishes a strong sense of self esteem within them. As a double bonus we also transmit to them a sense of safety.
It is safety which helps them to engage with life and learning without fear. Gentle interactions train them them that they can seek help and will be instructed and helped in a manner that does not harm or hurt.
They no longer have to avoid learning in fear of mis-steps, mistakes and the vulnerability of “not knowing.”
Children are then able to engage with their most important life task as small humans: facing growth, change and the unknown without fear. In the face of gentleness they become bold, confident and curious about more learning.
Gentle interactions teach them that it is possible to change without drama, pain and hardship.
How many of us still have to learn this skill?
Imagine anticipating change without pain!
Gentleness teaches children that agitation and impatience aren’t necessary to work effectively with something that is difficult. They learn that a calm centre can give them lots of options in any situation.
Instead of restlessness, fear and panic in the face of changing events they learn that a calm centre generates options.
Their experiences of gentleness teach that change and growth are not dependent on great anger, angst, struggle and strain. Growth and change can happen gently.
Gentleness can teach children to trust life’s unfolding.
As adults it may also calm us to observe that Life itself continues to change, shift and unfold with or without our drama.
A child’s trust in life comes from initially from safe trusting interactions with you and from your gentle responses. Later their trust in life is molded by observing and integrating your reactions to life events.
Thus, gentleness to OURSELVES in the face of shifting life events is also important.
Gentleness is a great tool because it is not really that complicated.
You don’t have to do a six month parenting course to learn it as a new behavioural technique!
Gentleness is really just a combination of kindness and calm. In any interaction you can just ask yourself,
“Can I do this more kindly? Can I do this more calmly?”
Such questions may give you a whole range of new ways “to do” that might help.
From squatting down to eye level with a child, to using soothing touch, to focusing on the child’s feelings more than our own annoyance or agenda.
It doesn’t have to be perfect but each time we choose to be just a little more gentle rather than a little more harsh, we teach our children to trust and we also give them some gentler ways to be.
Again, you don’t have to be perfect. With any situation you face today just ask yourself,
“Is there a way I can do this more gently?”
The answers may surprise you! Go gently and well.
Photo credits (in display order): © Depositphotos.com/bst2012; diego_cervo; oksana6170; uroszunic;Kavisimi.