While our children can sometimes drive us up the wall, we love them unconditionally. So, it’s essential to ensure they understand how much we love them by showing we know the 5 love languages of children. Inside every child, there are many cups to be filled, including connection and love. We often see misbehavior when a child’s love cup is empty, and they seek unhealthy or not particularly adaptive ways to try and draw our attention back to them.
Gary Chapman, Ph.D., wrote the best-selling book, “The 5 Love Languages,” which articulates that every person needs a unique blend of affection and attention from those who love them. Expressions of love are seen in five unique ways; gifts, acts of service, words of affirmation, quality time, and physical touch.1 He terms each of these five unique expressions of love our “love language.”
How to Identify Your Child’s Love Language
Connecting how you naturally demonstrate love to your child’s love language can help ensure your child is emotionally satisfied. Observing how your child naturally shows affection to others and how they respond to others’ loving behaviors is essential. Spend a moment reflecting; do they tell you 47 times a day they love you? Do they flourish when you praise them? Does a hug fix all? Do they constantly make you things? Or do they smile with pride after helping you carry in the shopping? Our children give us these cues about which of the 5 love languages they best respond to.
Here are the five love languages and how you can support your child’s love language:1
Gifts are not things a child receives in return for their behavior, like money or a small token for doing their chores. A true gift is about genuine care and has nothing to do with money or material things. Instead, it’s about sharing and recognizing an interest your child has or showing them physically that you have been thinking about them or caring about them. This is not the same as physical touch. Just be careful not to overdo it with material things; remember, gifts can also be the gift of time or recognition.
Gift ideas can include:
- Make them something they can wear or keep with them, like a beaded bracelet, a small clay figurine, or a love letter
- Send them letters or gifts in the mail
- Ensure that the presents you give are thoughtful and fit your child’s interests
- Have experiences together, like going to the zoo, park, or aquarium, and give the gift of time and attention
2. Acts of Service
This one can be tricky. Much of our parenting role can be seen as an act of service. We might believe we already engage in this love language, or it’s challenging to find the energy to do things in addition to the hundreds of parenting tasks we do already. However, an act of service is about finding small ways to do something for your child that communicates love (in and among the acts of service we already show when we do our daily parenting duties).
Ideas for acts of service include:
- Take time out to watch them at their sports events and cheer them on
- When your child is feeling sad or upset, find their favorite toy, or make their favorite dinner
- Make sure your child has opportunities to engage in acts of service by donating or volunteering
- Develop traditions where you make certain meals for special occasions, like pancakes for their birthday
- If they are struggling with an activity, stop what you are doing and help them
3. Words of Affirmation
We speak to our kids daily, telling them to do things, reminding them of upcoming events, and asking them questions. But these are not necessarily ways of expressing their love language. Words of affirmation have a tremendous effect on children. We can praise, compliment, tell them we love them, and help them feel affirmed that they are worthy because of the words we share.
Ideas for how to express words of affirmation include:
- Tell them and share exactly what they did when they did well instead of just saying, “good job.”
- Words don’t have to be spoken; leave them a little love note in their lunch box
- Use nicknames or other terms of affection saved especially for them
- Have a bedtime routine of words you say like “goodnight, sleep tight” or a short poem or saying
- Tell them often that you love them, but also share why you love them
4. Quality Time
This one can be tough for the time-poor parent. However, remember it’s quality of time, not quantity. So, ensure you have one-on-one time with your child, where your attention is undivided. Make sure that your phone and other distractions are out of the way. You don’t always have to have a plan or do anything expensive. Quality time is also about getting to know each other and can include eye contact and reciprocal conversations.
Some ideas for spending quality time together include:
- Make eye contact and give a little smile or wink
- Schedule in special time with your child. It doesn’t have to be long, but ensure that it’s uninterrupted
- Have story time or read together
- When your child talks to you, stop what you are doing and ensure you listen
- Show you are listening and care by asking relevant questions
- Play board games together
- Help them with schoolwork
5. Physical Touch
Touch is a common way that children speak and express love. You can use your body to transfer love to your child in various ways; a cuddle, a kiss, a massage, a pat on the back, a high-five, or even playing a physical game like “tag.”
Ideas for expressing love through touch include:
- Snuggling up and reading a story
- Making sure to tuck them into bed
- Rubbing their arm or hair when you ask how their day went
- If they feel unwell, cuddle them or wash their face
Discovering your child’s love language and learning to speak it will unlock a closeness you didn’t know was possible. Children thrive, feel safe, are open to learning, and generally have increased well-being when emotionally connected with their primary attachment figures. And although it can take time and patience not only to figure out their love language but also to adapt your behaviors, the effort will be well and truly worth it.