Raising emotionally healthy children is a full time journey. It is the most rewarding, incredible journey while also a challenging passage. Along this voyage you may ask, do my children know how much I love them? Am I helping them build a foundation of love and support from which they can grow and flourish? As a parent, wouldn’t it be helpful if you knew your loving efforts were being received?
Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell wrote a book titled The 5 Love Languages of Children (1997). In this book, the authors say that children give and receive love in five different languages. They explain that a child benefits from receiving love messages via all five languages, yet each child will have a primary love language. When unconditional love is communicated in the child’s primary language the message is received more clearly and helps to fill a child’s “emotional tank”. Just like an engine in a car, a child’s emotional tank requires love to support healthy emotional growth. When the emotional tank is depleted, a child can become irritable, cranky, act out, etc. When the emotional tank is full, the child is free to learn, have better relationships, improve communication, play and be happier overall.
The Five Languages
- Physical Touch
All children need to feel physical touch, yet for some children this becomes the primary love language. Physical touch is the easiest love language to use unconditionally and there is almost always opportunity for physical touch. Some examples of demonstrating love this way include: hugs, kisses, cuddles, stroking your child’s hair, high fives, group hugs, tickles, reading while your child sits on your lap, holding hands, tucking your child into bed, or a gentle touch while walking by.
- Words of Affirmation
When communicating love, words are powerful. Love can be expressed in praise, encouragement, words of affection and guidance. We must be careful that our words express unconditional love and that we deliver our words with sincerity, expressed in our tone, our vocabulary and our body language. Children can easily sense when words are insincere. Therefore, as powerful as they can be, words can also have a negative impact if delivered with insincerity. Words of affirmation can be expressed through notes, text messages or verbal expression of encouragement, belief in the child’s abilities, using nicknames and a simple “I love you”.
- Quality Time
Quality time is a parent’s gift of presence to a child. When a child receives your undivided attention he or she feels important and receives the message that you care. It is important to engage in this quality time at the physical and emotional level that matches your child’s development. An infant receives quality time with a parent during a game of peek-a-boo. A child learning to crawl can receive your attention while joining him or her on your hands and knees on the floor. Quality time can include teaching your child to kick a soccer ball, making chalk drawings, playing at the park, making a snack, riding bikes, planning an outing, reading together, planting a garden, making summer plans together, researching the internet together, or making a music video. When spending quality time with your child it allows for the opportunity to have good conversation and to get to know your child better.
Giving a gift is an expression of love. The true act of giving a gift should not to be confused with payment for services, like giving a token for the completion of chores. Giving a gift freely, on the other hand, without expectation, is an expression of love. It’s not about the size or the cost of the gift, but rather the grace with which it is given. All children enjoy receiving gifts, but the child who communicates with this primary love language will enjoy the experience in a different way. This child will often examine and appreciate the packaging, demonstrate immediate appreciation, squeal and give thanks when it is opened. He or she will then find a special place in his or her room to display the gift and tell their friends about it. Your child will regard the gift with special meaning because it will be received as an expression of your love.
- Acts of Service
The role of a parent is 18 plus years of service to our children. Acts of service are providing for, doing for and teaching our children what they cannot do for themselves at any given age. Tying a shoe for a 2 year old, helping a 7 year old with homework or driving a 12 year old to a friend’s house are all acts of service. A child with this primary love language will request an act of service and if it is provided with a loving heart and a positive attitude, it will fill their love tank. This does not mean you need to jump to every request, but it requires a parent to be sensitive to requests and the way in which acts of service can fill a child’s love tank.
How to Discover Your Child’s Love Language
It takes time to discover your child’s primary love language. Beginning in infancy and throughout a child’s life, it is important to express love in all five languages. Children typically don’t develop a primary love language until the age of 5 years or older. When beginning to observe your child to discover the primary language, especially a teen, don’t share the process with them. Children are naturally focused on themselves, and this can turn into an opportunity for your child to tell you that he or she must have the latest technology device because their love language is gifts! Therefore it is best to quietly observe your child’s natural interactions and learn how he or she expresses love without influence.
As you begin the process of learning your child’s love language, here is some guidance:
- Observe how your child expresses love to you
- Observe how your child expresses love to others
- Listen to what your child requests most often
- Notice what your child most frequently complains about
- Give your child a choice between two love languages and observe their choice
Learning how to express your love in your child’s primary love language will fill a child’s love tank. This satiation of love will enable a child to be more responsive to parental guidance in all areas of life. If you would like to learn more about the 5 Love Languages please note the reference for the book below.
Reference: Chapman, G. and Campbell R. The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, 1997.