Just like adults, children have their own communication styles and preferred methods of showing and receiving love. Figuring out exactly what that is - and how it differs from yours - can strengthen your relationship with your kids and make your home a happier, more peaceful place.
Marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman describes the different ways people express and feel love as “love languages”. According to Chapman, there are five love languages:
- Words of Affirmation
- Quality Time
- Receiving Gifts
- Acts of Service
- Physical Touch
In my experience, most people tend to favor two languages over the rest - and they are almost always different than the two their romantic partners prefer. (We humans are weird like that.) Figuring this out among adults is pretty easy, and it helps couples to share their love for one another more effectively.
Do you know your child’s love language?
It can be a little trickier to assess what love language your child is currently speaking. For one thing, they might not be able to tell you specifically what they like as clearly as an adult can. Also, their needs will be affected as much by their development as their personality. (A toddler, for example, simply isn’t going to respond to words of affirmation that he can’t understand.) You have to rely on observation and parental instinct to determine what makes your kid tick.
Are they always telling you how much they love you or asking you if they love them? Words of affirmation may be their language.
Do they seem to want to be near you or consistently ask you to play with them? Those are signs that quality time is what they understand.
Does your child light up whenever you give them a surprise treat, or start making their Christmas list in October? Receiving gifts may make them feel loved.
Is your child always offering to help you around the house? They’re speaking the language they prefer: acts of service.
Do you have a snuggler? That’s a kid who responds well to physical touch.
Paying attention to how your child shows you he loves you is a good way to figure out what he needs from you.
Why does this matter?
Have you ever spent thousands of dollars and a week of vacation time on the perfect family vacation, only to wind up feeling like your sacrifices weren’t appreciated? Do you plan family activities because you want your kids to know they matter - and end up feeling like you’re forcing family fun?
Feeling unappreciated is a common sign that there is a love language conflict. The problem is likely that your efforts aren’t appreciated, but only because what you’re doing isn’t naturally valued by the intended recipient.
Consider this: if you gave a third grader a letter indicating you’d be paying for college as a birthday gift, would you expect her to be excited? Probably not - and not because she is inherently ungrateful, but because a third grader can’t understand the value of college tuition.
A similar value gap occurs when we try to love up on our kids in an language they don’t relate to. The end result is a frustrated parent and a confused kid who isn’t sure what they did wrong or why you’re upset.
How to close the gap
Pay attention to your motives. Are you organizing family game night because you want your kids to know they are loved, or because you think quality time together is important? Neither intention is wrong, but you might want to rethink your plan of attack if your goal is to do something nice for a child who speaks Acts of Service or Physical Touch. Reading a book while cuddling under a blanket might be more effective and meet less resistance.
And what if you’re pulling out Monopoly because of your own values? That’s OK, too. But if you know this when you make the decision, you’re less likely to take the eye rolling and heavy sighs personally.