Wouldn’t it be great if our children came with CliffsNotes giving us the basics about their personality, food and sleep preferences, and some of their likes and dislikes? We could save so much time and money if we knew what they wanted instead of guessing.
Even though our children don’t come with a manual, they do show us their preferences in small and large ways every day. Sometimes through yelling and tears, sometimes though uninhibited joy and hugs. Our job as parents is to learn to read their cues and offer guidance to help them reach their fullest potential in life. Which brings us to the concept of love languages.
WHAT ARE LOVE LANGUAGES?
One of the biggest predictors of adult happiness and success is feeling loved and connected to someone special during childhood. In 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book explaining five different love languages. He realized that many couples did in fact love one another but were showing one type of love when their partner preferred something else (ie: giving flowers when she wanted him to do dishes, etc.). The same principle applies to our children, as they too have one specific language of love they hear better than the others.
Knowing your child’s language of love makes parenting a little easier. Why? Well, if your child is feeling off or having a hard time with something, you will have specific behaviors that will help them feel loved and will hopefully shift their mood. The trickier part is figuring out which of the five love languages your child prefers. Which is why I created this handy quiz to figure out which love language fits your child best — take the quiz and then come back to read more about each of the five love languages children possess.
Remember, children benefit from receiving love in each of the five forms, but they typically prefer and feel one a little more than the others.
Almost every day my 5-year-old screams, “Chase me, chase me, chase me!” Of course once I catch her, she screams “let me go!” in an effort to start another game. She also tends to play rough and asks for the occasional gentle cuddle. Just because she doesn’t want soft and tender touches all the time doesn’t mean that touch isn’t her love language. It means she loves to be touched but prefers firm pressure (like wrestling) instead of softer forms of touch. This is often noticed in children on the autism spectrum and those with sensory disorders. Most enjoy firm or soft forms of touch.
Pitfalls: Many times children who are physically aggressive are actually asking for loving touch in an inappropriate way. Unfortunately, this ask is often met by frustrated parents who either send their child away (time out or go to their room) or use negative touch (hitting or spanking) to try and discipline them. Anytime a child is physically hit it also smacks their self-esteem and dumps their emotional bucket. Doing this to a child whose love language is touch causes more harm than you realize.
Ways to show love through touch: brush their hair, offer to cuddle, buy different bristle paint brushes and “paint” their arms, back, and legs (this could be done in a bath or just when watching TV), gentle shoulder squeeze as you walk past, holding hands as you walk, sitting close enough to touch.
WORDS OF AFFIRMATION
Everyone wants to be told they are loved and amazing, yet some children feel these words more deeply than others. How do you know if the positive words you shower on your child is their love language? You know it when you say kind things to them and their faces beam with a smile from ear to ear and the love overflows out of them with words such as “I love you Mommy/Daddy” or hugs.
Pitfalls: Your child will hear criticism much harsher and as such you will need to wrap a soft blanket around your words at times. Also, when you say positive things to them, don’t wrap a negative into the same sentence because it will negate everything. Don’t say, “I love you but notice you still haven’t taken the trash out.” Instead, say “I noticed you still need to take out the trash. Thanks for being a rock star daughter. Love you!”
Ways to show love through words: leave a note of encouragement for them in their lunch, let them overhear you talking positively about them to someone (can even be a stuffed animal), say affirmations with them each day, call or text them out of the blue with an inspirational quote.
QUALITY TIME TOGETHER
I get it, almost a year into a global pandemic and I think everyone has had enough “quality time together.” That being said, if this is your child’s love language you need to turn off the screens, put down the phone and spend some time with them. You will know this is their language because they often say things like, “Come do X with me!” Or just being in the same room can make them feel connected. Also, these are the children who are perfectly happy walking with you in the woods, a museum or festival, or a store without saying much and you think they had an awful time. Yet when you ask them if they enjoyed themselves they shout, “YES!” That’s because they spent time with you, felt seen and heard, and it filled their emotional bucket.
Pitfalls: If your child craves being around you and others, then to isolate them (send them to their room or remove yourself from their vicinity) is felt as a severe punishment.
Ways to show love through time: engage 100% in a preferred activity of theirs (playing cars, reading, walking), set aside a chunk of time once a week to have “us time” and plan together during the week what you will do. Sometimes it’s just about sharing the same space and you can be present in their room doing some work (on the phone, cleaning, etc.) while they play. Let your kid know you canceled your plans (once in a while) when conflicts arise to do their thing instead of yours.
Before you start thinking, “WTF? They want more? Don’t I already give my kid the gift of food, housing, birthday parties, etc.?” Bear in mind, this isn’t about the gift itself, it’s about the act. Children whose language is “gifts” aren’t asking for the newest game console or hover board. They are asking, “Do you think of me when I’m not visually in front of you?”
These children often run up to their parents after a business trip asking, “Do you have a gift for me?” No they aren’t acting spoiled, they’re asking if you thought of them whilst you were gone. Children with this love language often carefully unwrap presents and they have a difficult time throwing things away because the broken toy “was a gift from Grandpa” and reminds them they are loved. Children see gifts as extensions of love.
Pitfalls: It can be easy to start “over gifting” and neglect some of the other languages of love. This happens when parents get busy giving presents instead of presence. Always spending money instead of offering time will backfire even if this is your child’s love language. Also, it’s important to keep gifts age appropriate. Your 3-year-old doesn’t need their own blow-up bouncy house, they’d be happy with a balloon blown up.
Ways to show love through gifts: surprise them with their favorite snack when going grocery shopping, see something special in nature and offer it to them, wrap up a forgotten and cherished toy with a note sharing a specific memory of them and the toy, gather wild flowers to present to them after a walk, start a fun collection like hotel keys that you bring home after each trip.
ACTS OF SERVICE
This doesn’t mean you’ll be their snack carrier for the rest of your life or forever be tying their shoes. It means when you make an effort to do something for them (often things they can do for themselves), they feel extra loved and special — such as zipping your 12-year-old’s coat for him when his hands are full or reading your kid a bedtime story even when they already know how to read. It’s not about the act itself, it’s about being willing “to do” something for them.
Pitfalls: Parent’s need to be careful not to infantilize their child. This means after you’ve shown them the steps to get dressed (where the clothes are, then underwear first, then pants, etc.) and they can do it on their own, you only “help” them with this task occasionally. Children need to develop their skills through practice, yet the occasional loving help from a parent can make all the difference to these kids.
Ways to show love through acts of service: once in a while doing one of your kids’ chores such as taking out the garbage, doing the dishes or making the bed (make sure your kid is doing their job 90% or more of the time already, fill-up the gas in your kid’s car, stop what you’re doing and replace the batteries in a toy your child was playing with, help your child with a large task after they’ve started it on their own.
BOTTOM LINE: LOVE LANGUAGES ARE A SECRET TO HAPPINESS
The bottom line is this: when we feel loved and secure, we feel safe and calm within ourselves, even if the world around us appears chaotic. I know parents are exhausted. I know kids are frustrated. I know families are stressed. I also know that parents are finding hope in unexpected places. And, I know that kids are adapting and adjusting fairly well with all the constant changes.
We all thrive with love in our lives. If we can learn and understand how we each experience acts of love, we can shift our responses toward ones that offer a “bigger punch.” Save yourself the $20 on a toy for the child who prefers quality time and create a toy together out of found objects at home. Your child will remember the love, not the things. Knowing how each member of your family receives love best is a secret to happiness.