If you’ve ever lived or travelled in a foreign country, you know how difficult it can be to create connections with people when you speak a different language. You can be living and working shoulder to shoulder, yet still feel very alone.
Children (and all of us for that matter) communicate love in different ways. These are known as the five love languages, a term coined by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell in their book The Five Love Languages of Children. So while WE know that we love our children fiercely, they may not necessarily FEEL loved.
For this reason, it’s vital to understand the five love languages of children, so that we can communicate our love to them in a way that they understand. After all, the fuller we keep their love tanks, the better equipped they are to deal with the challenges of being a kid!
So, what are the five love languages of children? Below is a brief explanation, with practical ideas to help you express your love to your kids in a way that they will feel and understand.
It’s no secret that physical touch is a powerful way for humans to express love. We need physical touch to thrive from the very beginning. Studies show that giving babies lots of kisses and cuddles has lasting positive impacts on their emotional life.
And while some of us are naturally ‘touchy-feely’ types, others may have to make more of a conscious effort to fill up their children’s love tanks with lots of cuddles, hugs and kisses.
To start off, keep things simple. Work on making it a habit to hug your child before they leave for school every morning, and when they return home in the afternoon. Read stories together, with your younger child on your lap, or snuggled up on the couch with older children.
Older children and those going through a stage where they are resistant to kisses and cuddles still need physical touch! Try some creative alternatives, like playwrestling, high-fives, a pat on the back, or a piggy-back ride.
Here are some more ideas for filling up your children’s love tank through physical touch:
Games like tickle fights, arm wrestles and clapping games
Snuggle together on the couch while you are watching a movie
When your child is sick or hurt, wipe their face with a cool cloth, or rub ointment on sore muscles.
Words of Affirmation
Do you still remember a passing comment that someone made to you years ago? Words are quickly spoken, but can stick for life.
And so it is with our children. Encouraging, affectionate words are like seeds that bear fruit all through a child’s life. Say ‘I love you’, often! To help little ones understand this abstract phrase, use it in warm, fuzzy moments, when you are giving them a cuddle.
Here are some other ideas to build up your child through words of affirmation:
Write an encouraging note and put it in their lunchbox.
Mention something specific you’ve noticed. For example, “I really appreciated how you shared with your sister. That was really kind.”
When they can overhear you talking with friends and family, talk about them in a positive way.
When your child makes a mistake trying to be helpful, before saying anything else, acknowledge their good intentions.
We live busy lives in a world where the demands on our time and attention are relentless. We are constantly pinged, beeped and flashed at. A study by Florida State University found that just the sound of a phone notification was enough to distract people into making mistakes. In the midst of all this chaos, undivided attention sends our children a powerful message: you are important, I like being with you.
Quality time doesn’t even have to mean going anywhere special, or splashing out the cash. You can give your child focussed attention almost anywhere. For example, adopting a bedtime ritual which is calm and gentle makes space every day for simply being together. Or, include them in your daily activities. You could hang up the washing, or fold the laundry together. Time spent in the garden pulling out weeds or planting seeds will appeal to the outdoorsy types.
Here are some other simple ideas for creating space for quality time with your children, and resisting the tyranny of the urgent:
Make food together: whether it’s a simple fruit platter or a family dinner.
Make photo albums, talk together about the memories you shared.
Car rides can be prime opportunities for deep and meaningful conversations. Try not to always have something playing in the car to encourage talk.
Go for a bike ride together.
Read together, either your own books, or read out loud to younger children.
Gifts have powerful symbolic meaning in our society as expressions of love and care. Giving a gift tells someone: “I thought about you, you are special to me”. Some children will respond more to gifts than others, but gift-giving should always be used in conjunction with the other love languages, never as a substitute for them. The important thing to note is that a true gift is an expression of unconditional love, not a reward or a bribe!
For children whose love language is gifts, take a look at these ideas:
Pick a bouquet of flowers.
Turn necessary purchases, like school shoes or kids sunglasses, into a gift by wrapping them up.
Take your child shopping with you for their birthday or Christmas present, asking their opinion.
Create a special box or drawer where they can keep their treasure, as a child whose love language is gifts will like to touch and hold these gifts from time to time, remembering the gift-giver and the occasion.
Acts of Service
We spend a LOT of time serving our children, it can feel like they are our tiny tyrannical overlords! But to a child whose love language is acts of service, when they ask you to fix their scooter or do their hair for them, they aren’t asking for a task to be done, but for a confirmation of emotional love. This simple change of perspective can transform the mundane (sometimes mind-numbing) everday tasks of child-rearing into expressions of love.
And of course, serving our children DOESN’T mean giving them everything they ask for, but rather that we do what is best for them. Ultimately, we’re working to help our children to emerge as competent and independent adults who can in turn help others as they have been helped.
Here are some age-appropriate ways to serve your children, and thus, model how to help others.
Birthday boy or girl gets to choose what dinner you will make!
When you’re running late, help your child quickly finish getting ready so that you can all get out the door quicker.
Help them with their homework.
Help your child fix their broken toy. The time taken will communicate to them powerfully how much you care for them.
Ultimately, our aim as parents is to be a safe harbour for our kids, where they experience unconditional love. And while the ideal is to express our love through all of the five love languages, you will notice your child tends to give love in a certain way, and needs a heavier dose of this love language from you.
If you would like help understanding your child's love language, there's a handy love languages quiz for children, here.