Loving our kids. Ahhh. Who could deny that this is the priority of most parents not to mention our joy. What’s interesting, however, is that the same way we love our kids may not be the same way they actually feel loved.
This is because each person expresses and receives love through different communication styles. And our style may be totally different from that of our child. While we are doing all we can to show our child love, they may be hearing it as something completely opposite.
Enter Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Langues, a seminal work in the style of communicating love in interpersonal relationships. In Gary’s original book, there are five communication styles and every person has at least one (or more).
- Verbal affirmation
- Quality time
- Acts of service
Verbal affirmation – Compliments such as “Your hair really looks nice today!” or “Great game tonight!” go a long way with the child who thrives on praise. Your words can focus on personality, accomplishments, outward appearance or anything else that affirms. Giving a monetary reward to a child who seeks affirmation will leave him feeling empty.
Touch – We’ve long known the emotional power of physical touch. Infants who are held fare better than those who are not. As children get older, they still long for physical affection — something as simple as a touch on the arm, a pat on the back, a hug. These gestures are especially important to the child with this love language. He wants to literally feel your love.
Quality time – Children who speak this love language seek undivided attention. When they’re infants, we play on the floor with them and roll balls back and forth. As they get older, that quality time is found in conversations, bedtime stories or backyard sports. The activity is not important; the time together is. For a child with siblings, it may be difficult to get one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. He needs to know that he is worthy of your undivided attention.
Acts of Service – In the early stages of life, we do things for our children that they can’t do for themselves. As they get older, our love is expressed by teaching them how to do things for themselves. For a child with this love language, we need to know which acts of service are important to him. Does he feel loved when you help him with homework? Or teach him to throw a ball? Once you’ve discovered the acts of service your child most appreciates, perform them often.
Gifts – Children with this love language treasure gifts as a tangible token of affection. Unfortunately, they also interpret a lack of gifts as a lack of love. Your gifts don’t need to be expensive, and they don’t need to be given every day, but recognizing that a child prefers to be rewarded with a pack of gum rather than a hug is an important step in building communication.
In my family, my little girl shows me she loves me by doing things for me, and by writing me love notes. However, she doesn’t like to snuggle much and is not verbally communicative with respect to affection.
My little boy loves to here how much I love him and good things about him, and would snuggle 24/7 if he could. He also feels cared about with gift, and he also likes to give things to his friends. However, getting him to do something for me (acts of service) is like pulling his teeth.
Since I understand this about my kids, I tailor the way I treat them so that they feel loved. It’s important to me that they know I see them and understand what speaks to them the most.
My own love languages are verbal affirmation and touch. my husband is almost all acts of service, with a little bit of quality time thrown in.
Understanding your child’s love language is one of the most foundational in communicating your love for them. Why not try a new way today?