Have you ever been ”playfully” punched in the arm by someone who didn’t know his or her own strength? It feels as if they had meant to deliver a knock out punch in a boxing match. Gentleness is often said to be “restrained strength”. The official definition of gentle is having a kind or tender temperament or moderation of action, affect or degree to avoid appearing harsh or severe. It is not weakness, but restraining one’s strength in consideration of others.
James 3:17 is one of several verses commanding Christians to be gentle, but I love how James frames it as an evidence of godly wisdom. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Gentleness is also a fruit of the Spirit – evidence that the Holy Spirit is present in the life of the person.
Children have to be taught to be gentle. You’ve probably witnessed a very small child who could literally “love” something to the point of causing pain with their overly enthusiastic hug. So what do you need to consider as you attempt to raise children who are gentle?
- There are two areas where gentleness is important. The first, physical gentleness, is usually addressed with small children, but should be monitored to see if additional coaching is needed. Children who engage in contact sports or who have certain special needs may not be aware of how painful their interactions may be to others. The second area is being emotionally/spiritually gentle. This gentleness is reflected in speech, demeanor and attitudes. Training in this type of gentleness is less common.
- There can be (and often is) a difference between what the world considers gentle behavior and what God expects. In a world, where some have proclaimed 2023 as “The Year of Me”, gentleness is often considered a weakness, rather than a strength. Teaching your children to be gentle is counter cultural and those around them may attempt to convince them they need to practice ”self care” instead or that someone ”deserves” to be treated harshly..
- Gentleness is a great way of reflecting God’s love to others. If your children are gentle, they are sensitive to the feelings of others. They are kind in their speech and interactions. They don’t lie to spare feelings, but rather find a way to ”speak the truth in love” – restraining the strength of truth by delivering it with sensitivity and love. (Remember, one’s opinion is not ”Truth”. It is one’s opinion and does not always need to be shared at all.)
- How to act gently is not intuitive and must be taught. Your children learn by your direct teaching and by watching your example. To be effective, your teaching and your actions should match. Parents need to teach emotional/spiritual gentleness even more than they work with their children on physical gentleness.
- “Sweet” and “kind” are good synonyms for gentle – especially for little ones – but use the word “gentle”, too. It is important to connect the word “gentle” because it is the term often used in scripture and to counter the idea that gentleness equates to being weak or wimpy.
- Guided practice and coaching can help. Is your child going to be in a situation where it may prove difficult for him or her to be gentle? Try role playing or discussing strategies and what gentleness would “look like” in that situation. If your child is struggling, make up common scenarios and practice acting out ways to be gentle in those situations.
Christians should be known as gentle. Gentleness is easier to practice when one has been doing it since childhood. Taking the time to help your children be gentle now can make it easier for them to do so consistently as adults.