In honor of Valentine’s Day this week, I thought I would write about a little known gem to help you understand your kids better. Do you know how your kids receive love from you? Do you know the best way to show your kids that you love them? Do you know that each of your children will likely need to be shown and give love differently? The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell gives worthwhile insight into loving your kids. I have recommended this as a bedside reading to many of the parents with whom I worked in my practice over the years with raving reviews and results.
Obviously, I cannot cover an entire book in one short article, but I will give you the basic principles behind discovering your children’s love languages, and what each love language looks like in application. Primarily, you want to learn which love language your child has (or they may be bi-lingual if they tie), how to show them love in their language, and note the way they show you love if it differs from your primary love language. This will lead to feeling more in tune with your kids, and to ensure that they always know that they are loved, regardless of the manner in which it was displayed.
Something that I think is important to mention before I get into the five languages is food for thought about loving your kids. I recently read of a study where they asked parents of children under the age of ten what they want their kids to say about them as parents in 15 years (all of the kids would be close to 18 or older at that point). Most of the responses included traits such as supportive, loving, understanding, compassionate, etc. Then the researchers asked the parents to list what they think their kids would say about them as parents right now. Many were surprised to recognize that in the present day to day, their kids would likely say more negative things about them, and they realized the need to ensure that they communicated love more effectively.
The five love languages are Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Affection, Gifts, and Acts of Service. Here are brief summaries of each.
Quality Time: This child wants to spend lots of time with you. He enjoys just being with you, regardless of what you do. This love language is especially important to recognize if you have more than one child. A child with a Quality Time language will feel very neglected and ignored without enough individual time with you.
Words of Affirmation: This child needs to hear that you love her. This would, of course, include say the words, “I love you” frequently. But, it would also encompass telling her that she is working hard, figuring things out on her own, that you believe in her, etc. She wants to be told how much she means to you, in daily doses.
Physical Affection: This child craves touch. He will love to cuddle, hug, hold hands, sit close to you, have his back rubbed, etc. This is kind of a combination language, as you really can’t give physical affection unless you are spending time with him. However, it is more about you actually being in physical contact with him than it is about being in his presence.
Gifts: This child needs to receive things from you to feel loved. It can be simple things, such as notes in the lunch box, her favorite flavor of ice cream from the grocery store, etc., but she will need tangible things to know you care. This will of course go along with holidays being extra special for this child when she receive gifts in large doses.
Acts of Service: This child needs you to do things for them. This does NOT mean things that they are capable of, or household chores, but rather going on a field trip with his class, shining his bike when it gets dirty, making his favorite cookies, washing his favorite shirt before school picture day, etc. Things that you know are important to him that you can do to show him you care will help this child feel loved.
An important element to keep in mind is that your love language may match one or more of your children’s, making it very easy to give and receive love with them. If yours does not match, it will be more important to really focus on making an effort to do what they need, even if it doesn’t feel natural to you. In other words, you may be a Words of Affirmation person, while your child is a Gifts person. You can tell them you love them all day, but until you give them something tangible like a new book to read to them at night, they will think you do not care about them. The opposite is also true – they may give you flowers they picked in the yard, but never actually say the words, “I love you”.
The more you understand how your child gives and receives love, the closer you can become. Also, the more you practice showing love in their languages, the more natural it will become to you. If you purchase a copy of Chapman and Campbell’s book, the appendices have assessments to learn the languages of yourself and your kids. I would encourage you this Valentine’s Day to really show your kids how much you love them, no matter how that needs to happen.
As a final note: They recently released The Five Love Languages of Teenagers if your kids are older.