Growing up feeling loved helps children overcome many obstacles. It contributes to a feeling of well-being that will help them excel in school, friendships, and all other areas of their lives. It even helps when it comes to being disciplined. “Often, parents assume that their kids just ‘know’ they love them, or that saying ‘I love you will be enough,” said Gary Chapman and Ross Campell in their book The 5 Love Languages of Children. But to feel truly loved, children need the adults in their lives to put those feelings into action. By learning to speak a child’s love languages, a parent can ensure the child feels loved.
Many parents are familiar with the love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. Like adults, children each have a primary love language that they respond to best, but speaking all five love languages is even more beneficial since children will react to the other love languages as well as their primary one. In addition, children’s love languages may change over time as they mature.
Chapman and Campbell recommend treating all five love languages equally if your child is younger than five years old. An older child’s love language can be discovered in several ways. One way is by paying careful attention to how they express their love and affection to you and others. For example, is your child always drawing pictures for you? Maybe his love language is receiving gifts. A particularly snuggly child’s primary love language may be physical touch, while a child who is generous with compliments may have words of affirmation as their primary love language.
Another good way to learn more about your child’s love language is to listen to what your child requests and what they complain about. Do they often ask your opinion on how they are doing in their work or play? They might be showing a preference for words of affirmation. Likewise, complaints about you being too busy can be considered a request for quality time. Be careful to look for patterns and to remember that a preference for quality time at age five may have changed by the time your child is ten or fifteen. One last way to search for your child’s love language is to give them choices. Dr. Suzanne Barchers, Education Advisor at Lin-gokids, says, “If your child is old enough, it’s fine to say, ‘I noticed you weren’t interested in that gift I brought you. If you had a choice, what would it be? Going to dinner together, just you and me? Going with me to work and helping me out for a few hours?’ Probe until you get some clues.”
Quality time is vital to all children, particularly if this is your child’s primary love language. If you already have activities you know you and your children enjoy, try to examine how often you’re doing them and see if you can increase the time spent together. Of course, it doesn’t have to be an activity you both enjoy. Your child will sense if you’re doing an activity solely for their pleasure and might even appreciate it more. Even activities such as cleaning and chores can have the desired effect of making a family feel closer. Quality time should be as free from distractions as possible, so although you typically want to take pictures of special events, try to spend as little time with your phone as possible.
If your child’s love language is physical touch, you are in luck! It can be the easiest love language to use because of the endless opportunities to give a hug or cozy up and get snuggly. Helping your child feel loved can be as easy as choosing a spot next to your child on the couch for movie night. Or maybe you give extra hugs when leaving for school in the morning. In addition, physical activities such as wrestling together or a tickle fight can help your child feel loved. However, if you are not physically affectionate by nature, you may want to consciously set an achievable goal to do something simple daily, like stroke your child’s hair or even give a high five.
Words of Affirmation
For a child whose love language is words of affirmation, prioritize encouraging words, words of affection, and specific praise. For example, say, “I love you” often. Showcasing their artwork can send an affirmative message to a creative child. Try sending an older child an encouraging text message.
Acts of Service
This love language can be a delicate balance. Of course, we want our children to mature and become more independent as they grow. But children can feel particularly loved when their parents perform acts of service, doing things for their children that they may or may not be able to do independently. An act of service might be carrying your child to bed even though you’re sure they’re only pretending to be asleep, making a special surprise meal for your child, or doing their chores for them when you know they’ve had a hard day.
Receiving gifts can be one of the more complicated love languages. Children will sense if a parent is trying to bribe them with a gift or if a parent is just buying gifts to make up for the fact that they don’t have time to spend with the child. Dr. Barchers says, “Gifts don’t have to be big and extravagant. They should, however, be thoughtful. Finding that perfect color of a barrette or a memorable trinket can be just right.” Don’t make the gift contingent on specific behavior, and ensure that the gifts reflect your child’s interests.
To find out more about the love languages of children, read “The 5 Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell.
Jill Morgenstern writes for many regional parenting magazines and her writing has also been featured on web pages such as the TODAY Show Parenting Team.