Children express and receive love in different ways: some through physical touch, others through encouraging words, still others through acts of service, gifts or quality time.
This concept was first introduced by Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages of Children, which he co-authored with Dr. Ross Campbell. “Children receive love emotionally,” Chapman said, “but because they are all different, we must pay attention to their individual needs. We must learn to speak our children’s [love]language if we want them to feel loved because each of these expressions of love represents a different “language.” Chapman continues, “We often try to pour all our children into the same mold. We go to parenting conferences and read books. We are inundated with great ideas that we want to use with our children. We fail to remember, however, that each child is different. What works with one may not work with another. And what communicates love to one child may not be received the same way by another child.”
Chapman, therefore, implies that there is a right way to love your child. Sometimes, saying “I love you” isn’t what a child needs and all they he or she is looking for is for you to spend more time with him or her. Could it be as simple as that?? It just may be so, and as parents, our number one job is to meet our child’s need for love. When a child is well-loved, he or she is ready to learn from teachers and parents. Without a love foundation, parents and teachers would have a difficult time teaching or disciplining children. In the classroom, for example, if a teacher notices that a child in her class seems insecure or disobedient, this is a sure sign that that child’s love language is not being addressed. Children come to school needing to be loved first, and it is therefore the task of the teacher to discover the love language of each child and fill each one up with the love they need. Once they feel loved, in their special way, they are ready to learn.
By understanding the five love languages, we can more easily discern the emotional needs of our children.
Here is a brief description of each love language.
Words of affirmation
This is a love that thrives on encouraging words. Compliments 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.
Hints your child gives: They love to hear specific praise about a project or they seek you out to show you a new skill they learned.
Helpful tips: Write them little notes; compliment them; speak positively about them.
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/her. 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.
Hints your child gives: They love it when people do nice things to them: helping in the chores, school projects, driving to places, making meals or preparing snacks. They like to hear you say, “Let’s do it together”, “Let me help you”.
Helpful tips: engage with them in a sport, work together on a project; surprise them by doing a chore for them; teach them how to serve others.
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 candy bar rather than a hug is an important step in building communication.
Hints your child gives: They feel good when someone gives them something. They enjoy surprises and special presents, having their favorite food made, or earning a special treat.
Helpful tips: keep a small supply of inexpensive gifts; leave gifts for them when you’re out of town; shop with them for a special gift; send them on a gift treasure hunt.
Children who speak this love language seek undivided attention. When they are infants, parents play with them on the floor. As they get older, that quality time is found in conversations, bedtime stories or backyard sports. The activity is not as important as the time together is. For a child with siblings, it may be difficult to get one-on-one time with Mom or Dad. He or she needs to know that he or she is worthy of your undivided attention.
Hints your child gives: They love to do things with you—go out to eat, watch a movie, run errands, play a game. They try to get your attention by asking you to sit with them or watch them.
Helpful tips: run errands together; ask about their day; eat together as a family; read together (for young kids, do this as a bedtime routine).
Who does not know the emotional power of physical touch! Studies show that 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/she wants to literally feel your love.
Hints your child gives: They love to receive hugs and kisses and enjoy being cuddled.
Helpful tips: hold hands; hug them often; engage in family cuddles, tickle fun; read together on the couch or on your lap.
Although children receive love best from one language, we should remember to use the other love languages as well, because, undoubtedly, children will benefit from all expressions of unconditional love. With a full tank of love, a child will certainly have less behavior issues, sound emotional health and less need for peer and adult attention.
(A portion of this article was taken from Heidi Krumenauer’s August/September 2009 issue of Focus on the Family magazine).