There are so many different ways that we show the people around us that we care about them. There are also so many ways that we show our children that we love them. But, do our children feel that we love them? In their book The Five Love Languages in Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell explain that there are five main “love languages” through which children perceive love. But, just like we all have different personalities, we also have different ways that we perceive love. What that means is that while one child might feel loved when you tell them “I love you,” another might feel loved by cuddling on the couch and reading a book. Parents can use all five love languages to communicate with their children, but figuring out your child’s primary love language and communicating most in that way will make your child feel most loved and secure. After all, you may truly love your child, but unless he truly feels that love through a language he understands, he will not feel loved.
Chapman and Campbell state that children (and adults) have “emotional tanks,” or fuel for tough and challenging days. We need to fill those emotional tanks with love in order to help children operate and reach their potential. These emotional tanks will be best filled with unconditional love in their particular language. First, let’s talk about what unconditional love is. Unconditional love means no matter what. It means that you love your child no matter what he looks like, what you expect from him and how he responds, and even if his behavior is poor. This doesn’t mean that there is no discipline in your home. It simply means that when you discipline, your child has a full “emotional tank” and can respond to the discipline positively. After all, discipline only works if children feel loved.
It’s important to remember that children are children. They will act immaturely. But, if we love them unconditionally, they will mature. This unconditional love can act as a foundation for self-esteem and success. Conversely, if we love them conditionally, they will be insecure and lack maturity.
But, you can love your children without them feeling your love if you don’t speak their love language. Let’s go over what Chapman and Campbell have identified as the five love languages. Keep an eye out to see if you can identify your children’s different primary love languages.
Physical touch: Some children understand that their parents love them through touch – hugs, kisses, wrestling, or reading on laps. A lot of parents don’t realize that they often only touch their children when necessary – when going in and out of the car, when tucking in at night, or when helping to cross the street. For children whose primary love language is physical touch, they best way to let them know that you love them is to cuddle with them. Sit next to your son on a couch and read a book. Braid your daughter’s hair.
Words of affirmation: Some other children understand love through words. If a parent provides positive guidance, praise, or concern, this indicates to the child that his parent loves him. On your way to school for the first day saying something like, “I’m so proud of how much you have grown this summer. You are such a mentch,” is a language of love for some children. Of course, saying “I love you” is also an affirmation. If a child consistently asking for comments on what they did (e.g. “How do you like my science project?” “Isn’t this a great necklace I just beaded?”), her primary love language might be words of affirmation.
Quality time: Quality time is giving someone your undivided attention. This means that you aren’t doing anything else while you are together with your child – you aren’t checking your phone messages or reading the newspaper. Instead, you are solely focused on your child. The main goal in quality time is to foster a feeling of togetherness. The best way to do this with children is to maintain eye contact when they are speaking, to listen to their feelings and not interrupt them. Also, you can take them to a ball game, go for a walk, or even just sit together and eat dinner one-on-one. For those whose love language is quality time, these activities will make them feel loved.
Gifts: Gifts have been around for centuries as an expression of love. And, for some children, gifts are the way they perceive love. However, these gifts need not be expensive. Instead, they should be personalized and thoughtful. This indicates that you were thinking about that individual child and wanted to represent that thought in a gift. This does not mean that for a child whose primary love language is gifts, you need to provide a gift a day or even a gift a week. Instead, it means that when you come across something that is personalized and individual, you buy it for your child to let him know that you are thinking of him.
Acts of service. Acts of service is using your time to do something that the child would otherwise not want to do. With adults in a marriage, these include washing dishes or killing the insect that crept into the house. This is a bit more difficult with children. But, if they hate doing a physical chore, do it with them. Or, become involved in a hobby that they enjoy to sacrifice your time for them.
The next step? Pay attention to the way your child responds to affection. Once you understand his primary love language, you can begin to fill his emotional tank, helping him grow a foundation for love and success.