Growing up, if there was a book my mom really wanted us to read, she’d offer us $20 for finishing it. It’s how she convinced me to read “Who Moved My Cheese” to help me deal with my strong aversion to change. Although, I can’t say that one was worth the payout, as I’m still rather attached to this aversion. “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman, however, was well worth the money as it positively shaped my relationships and continues to guide them today. The Love Language concept was developed by Chapman through years of observation and study in his own counseling practice. It’s the belief that every individual has a love language- a way in which they best receive love from others. According to his theory, each of us has one primary and one secondary love language. And a person naturally tends to give love the way they want to receive it. There are five in total: words of affirmation, quality time, giving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.
Knowing how you prefer to give and receive love provides a level of self-awareness that makes it much easier to connect with the people you care about the most. Communicating your love language to them creates an opportunity to feel truly heard and seen. Being loved the way we prefer fills our love tank so that we can then turn around and fill other’s tanks.
Overtime, Chapman realized children operate from the same languages and, if we can identify their individual language, we can meet their emotional needs in a more personalized and meaningful way. Every parent I’ve worked with has one thing in common- a desire to better understand and connect with their child. And this can happen simply by loving them in the way they desire to be loved. Discovering and practicing your child’s love language will boost their self-esteem, enhance feelings of security, build a stronger bond, and help teach them to communicate effectively. It will also ease your parenting struggles (biggest win of all!). Let’s take a closer look at each so you can unlock your child’s language and learn practical applications for speaking it.
· Words of Affirmation: Often the way we give love is the way we want to receive it as well. If your child often tells you out of the blue, “you’re the best Mommy” or “I love you, Dad!” chances are they crave your verbal expressions of love and encouragement. Words are powerful. Through the tools below, you can ease their nerves, build their confidence, and reaffirm that your love is unconditional.
o Leave little notes for them-in their lunch box, on their pillow or stick it to their bathroom mirror.
o Praise them in front of others.
o Be specific and genuine when telling them what you love about them or what they are doing well.
o Make eye contact when speaking to them.
o Come up with a special nickname for them or a personalized cheer you can pull out at their events.
· Quality Time: A child who desires quality time is constantly making bids for your undivided attention. Listen for “will you play with me?” or “watch me!”. They will feel the most valued when you carve out even just 10 minutes just for them. Time is a gift. One that flies and you can’t get it back. So, if this sounds like your child, put down your phone, postpone folding that load of laundry, get on their level and try these things.
o Go for a walk together.
o Run errands with them 1:1.
o Plan a special date to the nail salon or the batting cages.
o Work through a journal together. I recommend the Big Life Journal.
o Watch a movie together.
· Giving Gifts: My brother’s love language is gifts; both giving and receiving them. And over the years we noticed it was not always about the gift he was getting or giving. It was about the presentation of the gift, tying it to something meaningful and seeing if he could make us cry. Ha. Dr. Chapman says this is common of children who identify with this love language. They don’t just care about the content of the gift but also the packaging and the care put into it. They will often remember it for years to come. If your child gets sentimental about gifts or lights up when you pick them a flower, here are some other things you can try.
o Gift them something small “just because”!
o Plan a surprise party for their next birthday.
o Reward them for good behaviors and finished chores. This can be as simple as a sticker.
o Put a thoughtful note or their favorite piece of candy in their lunch box.
o You can also show love by showcasing a gift they gave you, such as hanging their artwork or wearing the homemade jewelry they gave you.
· Acts of Service: This is a tricky one. If your kid is constantly requesting your help with tying shoes, helping with homework, fixing the LEGO set that keeps breaking or washing their favorite stuffy…this just might be their love language. However, you don’t want to stunt their development by doing all these things for them. However, walking them through processes and teaching them easier ways to do these things themselves will satisfy the need and keep you from feeling like their personal servant. These are some other creative ways to meet this need.
o Teach them something new that you think they’d enjoy, like how to fish or bake a family cookie recipe!
o Sit with them while they clean their room, offering to help with bigger tasks.
o Make their favorite meal.
o Bring them a nice cold glass of water when they are playing outside.
· Physical Touch: When describing how to know if this is your kid’s love language, Dr. Chapman shared a story about his own son. He writes, “When I came home, he would run to the door, grab my leg and climb all over me.” If children constantly want to be in your bubble (touching you, playing with your hair, using you as a jungle gym, or wanting to wrestle), then there is a good chance they crave to be touched more. Here are some ways you can meet that need.
o Snuggle often, easily done during story time or a family movie night.
o Hold hands when taking walks or grocery shopping
o Give hugs and kisses frequently, especially to console them when they’re upset.
o Come up with a fun secret handshake or high five ritual
o Rough house and wrestle within reason. This one’s a great one for Dad’s.
As your child grows and their personality morphs, so too might their love language. Always be a student of your child. Watch their behaviors. This might mean becoming fluent in more than one of the above. But taking the time to reassess and grow with them is essential to making sure you’re depositing the right stuff into their love tank.