You may be familiar with the popular concept of The Five Love Languages as outlined by Doctor Gary Chapman.
Often we’re aware that our partners’ or friends’ love languages may be different than our own and that we must modify our communication to express our feelings. But our children also show and receive affection based on their own love language, and getting a grasp on what that love language is can help us both understand their affection and show our own.
The Five Love Languages
1. Quality Time – This type of love is often expressed by the gift of full, undivided attention. This doesn’t mean just being in the same proximity or room as the other person, but is exemplified through meaningful, undistracted conversation and attention intended to make you feel truly nurtured and loved. Being blown off, not attending an important event, or postponing conversations or dates can be particularly hurtful to those who show their love through quality time.
2. Words of Affirmation – Those whose Love Language is Words of Affirmation revel in compliments and verbal expressions of love. The more specific, the better. Perceived criticism or insults can be particularly harmful and hurtful to those who speak through this love language.
3. Receiving Gifts – This love language is not just about a price tag or the amount of gifts. It also relies heavily on the thought behind the gift and the planning or acquisition behind procuring said gift. Gifts are perceived as a concrete representation of someone’s feelings for you. Missed opportunities to give gifts, such as birthdays and holidays, can be particularly painful.
4. Physical Touch – For those who rely on physical touch to show and feel affection, each gesture, including a pat on the back, a look, brushing back their hair or giving hugs is a way of expressing concern, care and love. It’s also not necessarily all about these loving touches, but about physical presence and accessibility.
5. Acts of Service –At the heart of the Acts of Service love language is the desire to ease and assuage the burdens of every day living for those that you love. Acts that make daily life less palatable, such as leaving the house a mess, breaking a plan or commitment, or failing to do something previously agreed upon can make those who speak in this love language feel anything but loved.
Ways to Discover Your Child’s Love Language
- Observe how your child expresses love to you and to others
- Do they give gifts to show that they are thinking of you? Do you find your child crawling up on your lap when they are feeling affectionate? How do they treat their friends? All of these things may give you insight into the way that they are most comfortable expressing affection and love.
- Listen to your child’s requests. What do they most often want?
- If your child often asks to be alone with you or if they ask you to come in and cuddle with them before bed, they may be sending you clues to their preferred mode of expression.
- What does your child find difficult? What do they complain about?
- Perhaps your child has complained that their teacher did not praise them for a job well done or that their teacher spends more time with another child in the class over themselves. They are framing these requests based on their own view of the world and their own needs.
- Offer two options to your child and observe what they most frequently choose.
- For example, you might ask your child if they would prefer to play a game together or make a gift for a friend or loved one. Their answer can provide insight into their love language.
- Ask your child if they know how they are loved.
- They might respond by saying ‘From all of the hugs and kisses’ or ‘Because you tell me you love me’ or ‘You wrote a song about how much you love me.’ Their response will shed some light on what gestures they find the most meaningful.
How to Understand and Give Affection Based on Love Language
If your child’s love language is Physical Touch, they may show their love by…
Loving to give high-fives, asking often to cuddle, or ask to be carried. They may also ask for, or give, lots of hugs and kisses, love to sit in your lap, or always want you to participate in a physical activity with them such as racing, wrestling, or playing tag.
You can show your love by:
- Initiating snuggles, hugs, and kisses (if you don’t already).
- Creating a routine that involves structured play. For example, maybe every Sunday afternoon you have a planned game of soccer or basketball.
- If they’ve had a bad day or are irritable, reassuring them with a big, long bear-hug.
- Incorporating physical touch into your bedtime routine by including a short massage or by reading with them on your lap.
- Asking them to hold your hand while running errands or walking together.
If your child’s love language is Words of Affirmation, they may show their love by…
Lighting up every time you use a phrases like ‘good job’, ‘you did it,’ or ‘you’re amazing.’ Conversely, your child might also get incredibly hurt when they perceive that they are being criticised.
You can show your love by:
- The most obvious: Saying ‘I Love You’ a lot!
- Giving them specific compliments to let them know that they have done well or that you are proud.
- Trying to stay away from generic praise and keep your praise meaningful.
- Being sure to cheer loud and hard during sports games or recitals.
- Leaving notes in their lunch boxes or other places to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Creating a positive routine of verbal encouragement to start each day (‘I love you! And we are going to have an awesome day!’).
- Praising them to others in front of them.
If your child’s love language is Receiving Gifts, they may show their love by…
Making an effort to recognise special days, like your birthday or a holiday, or making you tokens of their affection such as a drawing or craft.
Sometimes it is more difficult to recognise the Receiving Gifts Love Language in children, but a gift doesn’t have to mean an expensive present or toy. It often means a well-thought-out token of affection.
You can show your love by:
- Cooking them their favourite meal or going all out to decorate for special occasions.
- Making up a song for them.
- Making an effort to take them to their favourite place.
- Planting a tree or writing a book with your child (the gift is the finished product).
- Taking something that’s yours and special to you and gifting it to your child (like a favourite necklace, photo, or other keepsake).
If your child’s love language is Quality Time, they may show their love by…
Continually asking or trying to do things with you, such as cooking or cleaning or watching a movie together. They may request to play games together or suggest other activities that require your full and undivided attention, including watching them do a task.
A child who expresses affection through Quality Time may also get particularly upset if their quality time is cut short or if other people are participating in your time together.
You can show your love by:
- Making special dates to go out and do things one-on-one.
- Making an effort to do ordinary things, such as running errands, with your child.
- Always maintaining good eye contact and truly listening to (including repeating) what your child says.
- If you have multiple children, creating events or dates to spend time one-on-one.
- Being particularly vigilant about not being distracted by the phone or others while you are engaging with your child.
- Cooking a meal together.
If your child’s love language is Acts of Service, they may show their love by…
Offering to help you with daily tasks, such as vacuuming or doing the dishes. They will try to do things that make life easier, and will give special attention and recognition to people who they perceive do nice things for them.
Sometimes it is difficult to recognise this Love Language in your child as much of what you do for them on a daily basis is an Act of Service.
You can show your affection by:
- Listening with special attention to your child’s requests (such as help with homework or brushing their teeth) to better understand the ways in which you can best help them.
- Making their favourite meal or creating an elaborate meal presentation just to show them that you love them.
- Give them the opportunity to choose what you do on a given day or evening, such as picking a movie or picking a book.
- Taking them to a museum or shop that specifically caters to their interests.
- Asking what you can do to make their day better.
- Helping them clean up their toys or get their homework together (though chances are you probably already do that!)
- Ask if you can help them with their homework
- Teach them how to best serve others and engage in a service or charitable activity with them.
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