Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speaking Your Child's Love Language

Have you heard of the concept of love languages? The idea is that people primarily give and receive love through one of five ways: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, or acts of service. There may be a relationship that you can think of where it's felt as if you both "were just speaking different languages."  Regardless of all the efforts made to express your love for the other, the message never seemed to land.  Well, this concept of five primary love languages is not just applicable to our adult romantic relationships, but also extends to our relationships with our children.

Just as our cars need fuel in order to run optimally, love is a child's deepest need and is emotional fuel for him.  Children need all five of these love languages in order to keep their emotional tanks full; however, most have a primary love language that satisfies more than others.  

The first love language is physical touch.  The most common forms of expression are hugs and kisses; however, this language is not limited to only these two.  Some examples of ways that you can express this language to your children include: reading a story while they are on your lap, spinning them around, brushing their hair, massaging their arms with lotion, and tossing them up and down. They key is to make sure that the touch is healthy and age-appropriate.  

The second love language is words of affirmation.  This can be accomplished through words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and guidance.  It's crucial that the words "I love you" never be polluted with conditional statements. Practice this language by expressing appreciation for a child's specific behavior or commenting daily about what you like about your child.  If coming up with affirmations is challenging, compile in advance a working list of "words of affirmations" to use at appropriate times. 

The third love language is quality time.  This requires the parent's undivided attention towards a specific activity such as storytelling, conversing, playing, and sharing feelings.  This language is convenient as it can be expressed anywhere.  Some childhood misbehavior is an attempt to obtain attention because in their minds negative attention is still attention.  Try spending a little extra one-on-one time with your child and you might see an improvement in his behavior. 

The fourth love language is gifts.  For this language to be received, the gift cannot be payment for services rendered, but a true expression of love towards the child given in a sincere and unconditional way.  Gifts have no price value and can be as simple as something that others may see as a basic necessity such as school clothes or shoes.  The key is making a big deal out of the gift by wrapping it and possibly presenting it in front of others.  The child will love the whole process and take pride in showing off the gift to others.

The fifth love language is acts of service.  Serving is more about doing what is best for the child rather than focused on pleasing him.  Parenting in and of itself is a selfless act of service that doesn't have a predetermined ending date.  Parents express this love language through such means as preparing meals, hosting gatherings, helping with homework, providing for the family, and fixing something that's broken.  The ultimate purpose of service is to teach children how to compassionately and genuinely serve others which will help mold them into mature adults.  

Children will not have a primary language until about five years of age or older.  Up until that age, children need all five love languages equally in order to develop emotionally.  Discovering your child's primary love language can take time.  There are clues all around you; however, it's up to the parent to play detective. Take into consideration these following five suggestions as you seek to unveil your child's primary love language.

1. Observe how your child expresses love to you.

2. Observe how your child expresses love to others.

3. Listen to what your child requests most often.

4. Notice what your child most frequently complains about.

5. Give your child a choice between two options. 

It may take time and energy; however the rewards of keeping your child's emotional love tank full will far outweigh any efforts and last the rest of his/her life. 

For more information about love languages in children, please refer to the following resource:

Chapman, G., & Campbell, R. (1997). The five love languages of children. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.