gentleness in children

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

I watched a girl who was about nine years old get out of the car and she forgot to close the door as she looked excited to go into Target. “Close the door!” her mom said, in a tone that rattled my insides, a tone that conveyed, “you stupid child.”

It’s a tone that often goes unnoticed in our culture. It’s a harshness that we’ve been desensitized to. But still our spirits and nervous systems are not “used to.”

Walking into the gym, I saw a mom pushing a stroller with her infant in the carseat. The sun was beating down on the infant – right in her eyes and she was squinting and trying to move away, too young to fully turn away.

I wanted to go over to the mom and tell her, “I get it!  You are tired.  You need a break.  Here, let’s let you sit for a moment.  Let’s turn baby out of the sun and let her eyes rest.”

Yet another harshness that happens in our everyday lives and that we don’t even stop to notice.

“You forgot your lunch again?!” I heard the dad say to his son walking into school.

I wanted to run over to the boy and tell him, “It’s ok.  I get it.  We all make mistakes.  Here, let’s figure out what to do together.”  I wanted to tell the dad, “I hear you, I am tired, too.  You’ve been doing so much and in charge of so much.  It’s a lot to keep all together.”

“Hurry up. We’re late,” I heard a dad say in a “low grade” tone of disgust and blame as he walked in front of his son before soccer practice.

I wanted to run over to both of them and say, “Ohhh it’s ok.  Slow down.  Look at your son!  He is so happy to just be doing this with you!  He looks up to you!  It’s ok to slow down!”

“What did I tell you?!” I heard on the playground, a parent barked in a exasperated tone.

I wanted to tell the other parent, “I can tell you are tired.  It’s ok.  Let them play.  They are doing ok together.”  I wanted to run and hug the little boy who shuddered when his mom yelled at him.  I wanted to put my gentle and embracing arms around him.

I get it. I’ve been there.


Years ago, my mom asked if I would be conscious of how I’m saying my son’s name. At first, I was like, “I say his name just fine!” But then I listened to my mom: I started to pay attention to how I said my son’s name. And I was embarrassed.

When I was frustrated (multi-tasking, carrying too much) I often said his name with a harsh tone. I thought about how I would feel if someone said my name so harshly. It was a wakeup call.

I get it. We live in a culture that breeds harshness.

We are a culture of “on-the-go”, hurry, worry, and busy. We are often living in chronic stress mode with our nervous systems always amped up. Living with this “low grade but always on” fight or flight mode, we are going to be harsh. Our tone is going to have an edge to it. We are going to notice “the negative” and harp on it. We are going to go into our default mode – we all have one. We are going to react in our habitual way — blaming, getting anxious, thinking we are alone, being the victim.

Read that again: Living in chronic stress mode we are going to be harsh, edgy, and reactive.

WHO wants to live this way?

In these “hot” political times here in the United States in our Presidential election this year, it’s so very hard for me to understand how we’d support leaders who lead with HARSHNESS. There is a big difference between being directive and being harsh, between being straight forward and being mean, and between standing up for what you believe and being cruel. I think of leaders like Mandela and Gandhi.

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” – Mahatma Gandhi

They did not lead with cruelty or harshness. Straight forward? Yes. Standing up for justice? Yes. But not with cruelty.

“People respond in accordance to how you relate to them. If you approach them on the basis of violence, that’s how they’ll react. But if you say, ‘We want peace, we want stability,’ we can then do a lot of things that will contribute towards the progress of our society.” –  Nelson Mandela

The same goes for us as parents – as leaders in our family.

We are so desensitized to the harshness within us (and around us – I’ll write about the harshness in our everyday lives soon) that we don’t even recognize it as harsh.

I don’t say this to make you feel guilty or ashamed. If you have been around here awhile, if you have worked with me in Compassion Coaching or Somatic Psychotherapy, you know that what I am about is gently bringing to the light that which needs (and is calling for) our attention.

What needs attention these days is YOU.

YOU need compassionate attention. Gentleness. Softness. The opposite of harshness.

You need to rest, to be soothed, to be deeply nourished and resourced – body, mind, and soul.

Maybe you need to be heard. Maybe you need to heal old wounds. Maybe there is trauma stuck within you that is creating a sense of stuckness, anxiety, hurry, or frazzledness. Maybe you just need a BREAK. Maybe you need to make some BIG changes – changes in your life that you KNOW will deeply nourish you, that keep calling to you – but seem really scary.

But you need space to step out of our “go, go” culture and heal the harshness within you.

I don’t want us to be mean. Mean to ourselves and to each other. Mean to our dear ones. Mean to the “other” person in traffic, online, over the phone.

I want us to feel CONNECTED. I see how we are all longing for connection. When we are mean it’s because we feel unworthy, unloved, and alone. Yes – that’s what it boils down to. When we are harsh it’s because we feel frazzled, ashamed, alone, unloved, and…afraid.

We are living in a culture of fear. We live with media that harps on our fears. Even the billion dollar parenting industry capitalizes on our fears. We have politicians who are exploiting our fears.

Haven’t we had enough?
It’s time to heal our meanness. It’s time heal our harshness – individually and collectively.
It’s time we restore connection. Connection to our own self, our dear ones, each other, and our world.

HOW do you restore connection? How do you reconnect?

Here are four ways to begin. This is a STARTING point. These are simple but not always easy. They are simplistic but profoundly healing:

1. Notice how you talk to yourself. Talk to yourself in a way that you would talk to someone you really love (the way you’d talk when you are resourced and moved with compassion!).


Here are more ways to treat yourself with compassion.
Here is my post about a mom’s radical commitment to self-compassion.

2. Notice how you say your beloved’s name. Just as my mom had gently suggested this to me, notice how you say your childen’s name and your partner’s name. Notice your tone of voice. Play with saying their name with kindness and love.


3. Touch the earth. When we are stressed, we feel disconnected. We get trapped in our own heads. We don’t see outside ourselves – we get way self-consumed. Put your hand on the earth. Literally. I mean get down on the ground, spread your fingers out wide, and touch the earth. She reminds you of your mortality, the clay used to form you, and that there is Something Holy bigger than this particular thought you are holding onto.


“Touching the earth, I am connecting to All that Is. I am reminded of the clay that formed me and I will return to. I am reminded to walk gently on Mother Earth and give thanks for her wonders.” Lisa McCrohan

4. Begin again.  Whenever things get harsh or mean, pause and begin again.

Here is a whole post on beginning again.

Here is a post on practicing a Sacred Pause.

Friends, let’s heal this meanness – within each of us and in our culture. Let’s heal the harshness. Let’s begin to reconnect through compassion. Being deeply connected and compassionate — this is our true nature.


*When it’s time to feel like someone is by your side, supporting you healing the meanness, healing the harshness that is surfacing within you and your relationships, please — check out my offering of Compassion Coaching.  It’s deeply restorative and nourishing.

*You can find the meditation, Sacred Pause, on my shop.

*Wear a poetic reminder around your wrist that you carry with you wherever you go to remember to practice radical compassion – for yourself and others.  You can find this poetic wrist wrap, Today I Vow, on my shop: (it reads: “Today I vow to be kind with my words, gentle with my touch, and compassionate with my presence.”)


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