As parents, we are all aware of children’s fundamental need for love and usually convey it the way which feels most familiar to us. Yet according to the marriage counselor, Gary Chapman, Ph.D, we are each, children and adults too, particularly responsive to one specific kind of love. Understanding this can strengthen bonds and improve relationships within the family.
The love tank and five love languages of children in a nutshell
Gary’s theory is based on the image of a love tank which constantly needs to be replenished in order to nurture children’s inner sense of worth. When properly filled, children feel safe and can thus better develop and express their full potential.
To keep the tank full, all expressions of love are welcomed. Yet identifying and using the one which truly meets the emotional needs of your child, particularly from four years onwards, will prove even more beneficial!
To explain his concept, Gary uses the comparison of languages. If you speak Chinese to a French, communication may be a little tricky and the message might not come through properly. If you learn French, you have a much better chance of making yourself understood.
The same applies with love which can be spoken in five main languages :
- Words of affirmation : verbal acknowledgment of appreciation
- Physical touch : contact and signs of appreciation through body language
- Quality time : undivided attention through moments spent together
- Gifts : visual symbols of love
- Act of services : performance of big and small chores making life easier as a sign of love
Discovering how our children best feel cherished is Gary's secret to loving them effectively.
The five languages in detail
Words of affirmation
Mark Twain said “I can live for two months on a good compliment!". All children enjoy hearing “I love you!” but for some, words of praise and encouragement are the strongest symbol of their parents’ sincere care. I love you means “I am there for you, you can count on me, I value you and you are dear to my heart!”.
If your child beams with delight and pride every time you make a compliment and tends to make a lot themselves to friends and family, then words of affirmation are their core language. Likewise if they frequently ask for time to talk together.
Frequent verbal interactions using positive words and a gentle tone are very important. Written words such as letters or sweet notes hiding in lunchboxes or placed under the pillow work great too. Whispering out loud to a pet or plush toy compliments is another way of making your child feel loved. Research has shown that we tend to believe even harder what we overhear rather than what is said to us!
Harsh words, blame, and conditional love such as “you are good girl only if” will on the opposite create insecurity.
This love language may be one of the most obvious. With babies, parents will naturally use physical contact a lot since words cannot yet be fully understood. Studies have proven that this is essential to a child’s healthy development. As kids grow up, this form of interaction could remain much more important than words.
If you child loves to be cuddled, kissed and embraced, then physical touch is his language. There are many ways to express it : playing chase me, tickle me, squeezing your child’s hands, tucking him into bed at night, stroking his hair, making high fives, waving back each time you drop him at school… These small and easy to perform gestures will mean the world to your little one. They may seem like minor acts but actually shout : I LOVE YOU.
With this type of child, spanking and slapping or brutal movements, must be totally banned!
For others, gifts of time is what matters the most. Giving your child your full attention will speak louder than words or presents. This implies undivided focus and time off entirely dedicated to your little one. It can take the form of one to one discussions or activities shared together. It is not so much what you are doing which matters but the fact that you are doing it as a team.
If your child comes running each time you get home, saying “come and watch this” or tugging at your leg saying “please come and play”, then quality time is his language.
With busy schedules and several siblings to take care of, responding to this need can prove a little challenging. Mummy/daddy special dates at the restaurant or tea party or day out are always a good idea but sometimes just 5 minutes of sincere play without phone or looking at your watch can be enough to fill your child’s love tank for the week!
Asking him/her to come with you to the bakery or even to the post office can work too.
Whatever the culture, whatever the era, gifts have always been a token of love. This is specially true with children. One look at a child’s face at Christmas speaks for itself. If all kids enjoy presents, to some it is more than just a pretty object and new belonging.
If your kid thanks you several times about a present, talks to others about it for several months, keeps the wrapping and tends to make lots of gifts himself, this is probably his love language.
This does not mean you should spoil your child or use only objects to express your love. However each time you offer something, it will be a visual symbol of how much you care. It does not necessarily need to be very fancy or expensive. Picking a pretty flower or special card as a surprise without there being a special occasion, baking your child’s favorite cake for afternoon tea or lending him one of your scarfs are easy but effective ideas.
Acts of services
This one may be the least obvious. As we raise children, we tend to encourage them to be independent and to do things by themselves. Yet you may have noticed that some kids will frequently ask more than others “can you do it for me?” or “can you help me?”. This is not necessarily linked to their inability to perform acts alone but a way of testing your love and asking for it.
In this case acts of services must be made with extra tenderness and always with spontaneity. It is a question of finding the right moments and right actions which will make your little one's life easier and be received as a sign of love while not overdoing it.
It does not mean answering each and every request but bear in mind that when your child asks your help, be it to fix his bike or do his homework, it may be a way of asking for more love. Teaching your child something, it could be a new sport, a recipe or any kind of skill can be another way of filling his love tank. It's a form of dialect within this kind of love language!
Identifying the love language of your child
Mere observation will help you spot your child’s language. We all tend to express love the way we wish to receive it! Speaking with those with whom he/she spends the most time may prove useful too : teachers, grandparents, friends…
If your kid is between 9-12y, you can also make them take the quiz. Short, simple and quite fun, it will give you an immediate overview of your child’s primary language. For younger ones from 5 to 8, Gary Chapman suggests another type of exercise with drawings.
We also encourage parents to take the test themselves. Knowing your own language and that of your soulmate can lead to interesting findings and improve family relationships as a whole!
Each child is unique and so is each parent. Love can be expressed a thousand ways and the possibilities are absolutely endless! Gary Chapman’s five love languages have proved very efficient for many families but please follow your instinct and emotions too. A mother’s heart is often the very best guide!
Furthermore, these love languages are meant as a piece of advice and not as a rule! Take it easy, if expressed with all your heart and kindness, an act of love, even expressed in gibberish can do no harm!
Read another article about children’s five love languages : Expressed in another words, this article may speak to you more.