By Darian Young, Family Preservation Coordinator
Miscommunications often lend themselves to the creation of rifts and barriers within families. For example, if every member of a family spoke a completely different language at home, imagine the conflicts, hurt feelings, confusion and more that would arise. The truth is, many families are speaking different languages — love languages, that is.
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages of Children, Chapman wrote, “Every child has a primary language of love, a way in which he or she understands a parent’s love best.” There are five primary love languages that Chapman refers to: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, quality time and physical touch. When you speak your child’s love language accurately, you fill their “love tank” and increase their feelings of being both accepted and loved. Ideally, this removes the need for children to seek love and acceptance from places that could prove harmful.
Words of affirmation
Most understand the power that words hold, but to children with words of affirmation as a primary love language, words are even more significant. Praise, guidance, encouragement and words of affection all send a direct signal that the child is loved. “Even though such words are quickly said, they are not soon forgotten. A child reaps the benefits of affirming words for a lifetime,” Chapman wrote. The same holds true with negative, harsh and overly critical words, too. A loved one’s harshness or excessive negativity deeply wound children who hold words dear to their heart.
How to speak this language to your child: write a short note inside their lunchbox, send a daily positive text to your child or cheer for them at sporting events. One suggestion with significant impact is allowing your child to overhear you saying something positive about them to someone else. Dr. Harvey Karp, author of The Happiest Toddler on the Block, explained that we tend to believe things even more if we overhear them versus being directly told.
Acts of service
The role of a parent is most often a service-oriented job. According to Chapman, children’s primary love language is service and “Your acts of service will communicate most deeply that you love [them].”
It is important to understand that a child who thrives on acts of service does not get a free pass or get every request immediately granted. What it does mean, though, is parents should respond to requests sensitively and “recognize that your response will either help fill the child’s love tank or else puncture the tank,” according to Chapman.
How to speak this language to your child: lovingly repair a broken toy, pack a lunch, prepare a favorite meal or help create flash cards for an upcoming test. These can speak volumes and fill your child’s love tank.
“The giving and receiving of gifts can be a powerful expression of love, at the time they are given and often extending into later years,” Chapman said. Giving gifts does not have to be an elaborate, expensive or grand gesture. Children who relate most to this love language connect presents with deep meaning, memories and overall love. A child whose primary love language is gifts will most likely remember what presents are from whom and when or why the gift was given to them. The gifts are worth more in their young eyes than the monetary value or the popularity of the gift.
How to speak this language to your child: creating unique “coupons” that fit your child’s interests (such as “extra time before bed” or “free ice cream cone”), placing surprise small gifts such as a Hershey’s kiss or handmade card hidden in your child’s lunchbox or bedroom, or other personalized gifts can more than satisfy a child whose primary love language is gifts.
Complete undivided attention in today’s hectic world will speak volumes to a child whose primary love language is quality time. All children crave attention, but children motivated by quality time continuously and intentionally seek out parents to play with them and act out when periods come and go without one-on-one time. It is imperative to choose moments and activities important to your child. Pay attention to their likes and hobbies, and create moments where you choose to join in with them.
Carve out one hour each week for individual time with your child or children by reading, playing a game, going on a walk, making a meal together or having an uninterrupted conversation.
It has been widely studied and proven that babies who are held and loved on more as infants fare better over time than babies who are neglected of physical touch. If we understand the significance of touch with newborns, it is vital we do not forget the power touch has on toddlers, adolescents and even adults. “A tender hug communicates love to any child, but it shouts love to these children,” Chapman said. As with words of affirmation, the reverse is also true with negative or harmful touch. To a child whose primary love language is physical touch, a spanking or an inappropriate touch can become a devastating emotional wound. All children need to be taught the importance of physical boundaries and should be allowed to decide their own.
How to speak this language to your child: frequent and sincere hugs, kisses, pats on the back, high fives, fist bumps, holding hands, dancing together, cuddling while reading a book or watching television, special handshakes, play wrestling or any other positive touch gives the visible sign to a child that they are noticed and loved.
Discovering your child’s love language
While most children will have one primary love language, it is critical not to drop the ball entirely when it comes to the other four love languages. All are necessary for children to thrive, but one will speak the loudest and clearest to your child.
A simple way to discover your child’s love language is to ask the question, “How do you know mommy/daddy loves you?” Their answer will provide you direct insight to what speaks the loudest and fills their tank the fullest. Answers might sound something like, “I know you love me because you always tell me so every morning and every night,” (words of affirmation); “You always make me yummy dinner and help me whenever a toy breaks, and that always makes me feel really happy,” (acts of service); “I can look at all my clothes, my cellphone and even the random cards mom makes me and see how much y’all love me,” (gifts); “You always make time for me, no matter how busy you are with work or how difficult I’m being, and that means a lot to me,”(quality time); or “Mommy, you always give me kisses and cuddles, and it makes me feel warm and cozy!” (physical touch).
Additionally, there are free online quizzes you can take in order to better understand what your child’s love language may be. The quizzes can be accessed at cpn.news/5lovelang.
“When we as parents learn to speak our children’s love language, even though it differs from our own, we are showing them the way of unselfishness, the way of serving others. We are guiding them into an important part of becoming an adult — giving and caring for others,” Chapman said.
If you are interested in learning more parenting tips, reach out to FireLodge Children & Family Services and inquire about the parenting classes that are offered free of charge. Visit facebook.com/cpnfirelodge or call 405-878-4831.