More and more these days families are giving attention to the concept that emotional well-being is an important part of our children’s overall health. Whether they’re sorting out toy sharing with siblings, facing changes in playground social politics, or learning how to get their emotional needs met from their parents most effectively, our children are faced daily with the ebb and flow of their emotional body. As parents, we all want to give our children the best possible chance at success. One of the best ways to do so is through expressing our unconditional love and showing how much we appreciate and value them. But is the message really getting through?
Dr. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Languages of Love of Children, explains that each one of us, adults and children alike, give and receive love through five major channels. He talks about the importance of learning to communicate love in the language of the receiver to maximize its effects, something he calls “filling the love tank”. So how can you determine what your child’s language is? In most cases your kiddo will express his love in the same ways he likes to receive it. With a little observation for telltale signs you can be on your way to filling your loved one’s love tank!
- Words of Affirmation– This language uses words to affirm others. Words of affection, praise, encouragement and guidance all send the message that your love is strong and steady. You might notice your child is the type to offer such kind words to others. They may write notes to you or those they care about. They are adept at verbalizing their feelings and will often beam with pride when you verbalize your positive feelings about them.
These children will also be more sensitive to harsh words and criticism. They’ll be much more hurt when someone says something unkind to them than children that speak the other languages as their primary. To show this kind of child that you love them, consider leaving them notes in their lunchbox or on their pillow. Take the time to talk about their accomplishments and tell them how proud you are of them. Be sure that you speak with sincerity. Fewer compliments that are genuine mean much more to these children than an abundance of empty words.
- Acts of Service– For these children, actions speak louder than words. Completing chores, giving a helping hand, doing that which you ask of them with ease- these are ways this language manifests. A child who speaks this language might make requests for your help when working on a project or respond with joy and gratitude when you’ve done something for them. These are those perpetually helpful children who hear your love loudest in your reciprocation of action.
These children will definitely be more sensitive than others to denied requests for help. While you may not be able to grant every request, it is important to these children that you make time to do things for and with them. Further, giving a child with this love language the opportunity to do things for you sends the message that you value their acts of service and, in turn, their love. Consider finding ways to give this child a special job like helping with dinner or watering the garden. In turn, look for special opportunities to be of service yourself, like carrying their backpack to the car.
- Receiving Gifts– For some children, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift. Size nor cost will matter to these kids. It is common for children to want for material items, but these children will be more impressed by thoughtful surprises than lots of flashy toys. These are those sweet little ones that bring you a flower from the yard or hand you a stone they found at school. They’ll want to spend their allowance purchasing items for others and may spend all year finding the right gift for your birthday.
A gift ill-received will be a big bruise to this giver’s heart so be sure to put that flower in water or create a special place in your yard for those stones she brings home. Be mindful of the kinds of things this child prefers and give gifts that will be meaningful to her. Again, note that these don’t have to be expensive or flashy. This child will be deeply touched by the picture you drew or the song you made up just for her. It is especially important here to never use a gift as a bargaining tool or later claim the child “owes” you for the things you’ve given them.
- Quality Time– This language is all about giving the other your undivided attention. With our busy schedules and multitude of available distractions it can be easy to overlook quality time with our children. Yes, you’ve been with them all day running errands, but your attention has most likely been split between them and the other tasks at hand. These are the kids that will be the ones following you around the house or wanting to sit in your lap while you work. They will tell stories about the things you did together and they might have trouble sharing your attention with others.
This child needs more than to just be along for the ride. They need eye contact, interaction free of distraction and one-on-one time with you. All our kids need quality time but these children will benefit most if you can put aside even just 15 minutes a day to do something with them. Let them choose the activity when appropriate and be sure to turn the volume off on your phone. Offering your undivided attention sends the message that they are important enough for you to put aside distractions.
- Physical Touch– To this child, nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch. They hug their friends, want to hold hands and ask for extra cuddles at bedtime. When our children are young it is almost unavoidable to offer love in the physical form. As they grow older we sometimes forget that hugs, kisses and cuddles are an essential part of their well-being. We may believe that boys need less physical touch than girls. We may even feel uncomfortable with physical touch ourselves and therefore deny it to our children. For these cuddle bugs, you’ll want to go out of your way to show some affection as well as be receptive to their giving of it.
Insensitive touch is never going to sit well with this kid. That heavy pat on the back from Uncle Joe or those uncomfortable cheek pinches from Aunt Sue can be annoying to any of us. But this child especially needs touch to be loving, kind and intentional. Nose to nose kisses, head scratches and hand holding will send them message that they are lovable and valued. Sometimes just asking if they need a hug or sitting next to them at mealtime can give them the reassurance they need. Of course, a good wrestling match, tickle session, or hard bear hugs can work for some kids too. Just be mindful of your child’s preferences and make conscious attempts to show the kind of affection he enjoys.
Note with each language that the child will be most hurt by the negative aspect of their love language; harsh words, ignoring requests, absent minded gifts, divided attention, inappropriate or lack of touch. Most of us have at least two primary Love Languages. Once you’ve determined your child’s primary languages, use that information to not only express your love, but also to be mindful of where you may be causing undue hurt. There may be small ways your child is receiving the unintentional message that they are not loved as unconditionally as you know they are!
Obviously, knowing you’re loved is important to feeling safe, valued and confident – imperatives to every person’s overall well-being. And we all have an internal measuring stick on our love tank by which we determine whether we are indeed lovable. When a child feels they measure low, they’ll be more inclined to act out in anger, express insecurity, retreat, or avoid opportunities for success in a desperate attempt to raise those internal levels back to feeling loved. Remember, there’s no such thing as showing “too much” love. And what do you get when a child’s love tank is full? A more cooperative, compassionate, resilient, confident and happy child, of course! When our children feel good about themselves, it is easy for them to pass those good feelings on to others and into everything they do, creating the prime environment for success in all aspects of life.
Want to learn more? Visit http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ to find Love Language quizzes and links to Study Guides, E-Books, Audio Books, and other resources.
About the Author:
Origins teacher DeBorah Kirkpatrick has spent her life developing the connection-based, heart-centered theory of practice she now implements in her work with individuals and families across the lifespan as a Full Circle Doula. With more than a decade of formal education and professional experience DeBorah brings unique insight into some of the most common struggles children, adults, and elders face as they journey through life. Armed with an experienced pair of hands, an empathetic ear and a giving heart she aims to inspire others to fully embody their most authentic selves through education, guidance, and loving hands-on support. You can find her at FullCircleDoula.net.