How Knowing Your Child’s Love Language Can Make You a Better Parent
Your role as a parent is all-encompassing: you are a chef, a chauffeur, a coach, a nurse, a counsellor, launderer, entertainer and professional butt-wiper. But unfortunately you aren’t a mind reader, and figuring out how to get through to your child is a challenge that has most parents pulling their hair out on a regular basis.
But did you know that, just like adults, children have their own, unique love languages? The term “Love Languages” was coined by author Dr Gary Chapman in his 1992 book, where he outlines the five different ways in which people commonly express and receive love - through physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service and quality time. While children should receive love in all five languages, everybody has one way that matters most, and knowing which is your child’s top choice can help to strengthen the bond between you, connect with them when they’re feeling overwhelmed, and reduce unwelcome behaviours.
Identifying how your child chooses to express her love is your biggest clue in unlocking the puzzle of her love language and helping you to deepen your connection with her. Consider these examples and see if you recognise them in your own home.
Does your child rush for your knees, almost knocking you over as you walk in the door? Do they climb into your bed at night, shuffle right up against you and fall blissfully asleep? Do your ears ring with the sound of “Uppy!” and “Chase me!” and “Can I sit on your lap?”? This kind of behaviour can make their parents feel “touched out” by the end of the day, but it just means that your child craves physical touch to feel loved and secure.
Ideas to try:
Snuggle up at any opportunity - to read a book in bed, watch their favourite show on TV together, when giving goodnight kisses… be generous with your physical touch.
When you drop them off at school in the morning give them 5 kisses on the palm of their hand to “keep for the day” in case they need them. Tell them that if they feel lonely or miss you during the day they can put their palm to their cheek and it will be like you’re giving them a kiss.
Play physical games at home like Twister and tag.
Have a “spa night” at home and do manicures, pedicures and foot massages.
Make up a “family handshake” for whenever you say goodbye.
Does your child come home from school with a picture drawn especially for you, or a crumbled leaf that they saved for you from the playground? Do they get giddy on birthdays and holidays (more than their siblings) when they see the piles of gifts? Do they always ask for a toy when you’re out shopping? Do they refuse to throw out even the most trivial item, even if they no longer use it, because they remember exactly who gave it to them and when? For these children gifts are a powerful expression of love and a constant reminder of it.
Ideas to try
Gifts don’t need to cost money. Learn origami and leave paper models on her bed for when she comes home at the end of the day.
Give little gifts that reflect your child’s interests - stickers of ponies or footballers, paper stars with names of real stars in the galaxy, or a box of cake mixture with a ribbon tied around it that you could bake together.
Present everyday items that they need and you would have got for them anyway as gifts - wrap up their new pair of indoor shoes or their winter pyjamas. It’s the act of being given the item that means the most to children with this love language.
Words of affirmation
Does your child whisper to you, “Mama, you’re the best mama.”? Does she listen intently when you talk and does she come home from school talking a mile a minute about the things she learnt or something funny that happened on the playground? Words of love and affirmation are deeply important to these children, and they feel most loved when in conversation with you.
Ideas to try
Say “I love you” many times a day. These kids never get sick of hearing it.
Put little notes in their lunchbox telling them how proud you are of them and how much you love them.
“Whisper” to their teddy about something your child did well, or about one of their wonderful qualities (research shows that we all believe things more if we overhear them rather than if they’re said directly to us).
Create “secret code words” you can say within your family.
Be mindful that while words matter to all children, these kids take criticism especially hard - so choose your words carefully.
Acts of Service
Are you exhausted from your little one constantly asking you to do up her shoes/fix her snacks/lift her our of the bathtub? Likewise, do they love to create carnage in your kitchen on a Sunday morning while they make you pancakes in bed? These children respond heavily to acts of service that make them feel loved, protected and safe.
Ideas to try
Carry younger children to bed and make a fuss of tucking them in.
Prepare lunch boxes of snacks for them to take on a picnic in the garden.
Lay their pyjamas out on their beds while they’re in the bath.
Sit down together to make a list of things they love to do.
Be wary of falling into the trap of doing everything for these children - ensure they have their independence but do it gently, by guiding them in a task or teaching them how to do things for themselves.
It can be argued that quality time - your full and undivided attention - is what most children crave the most. And it’s also the thing we can find the most difficult to give them, as we live our busy lives. Does your child constantly say, “Come here!” or “I want to show you something” or “Watch this!” or “Play with me!”? These children require not just your time, but time free of distraction, when you can focus solely on them.
Ideas to try
If you’re short of time (which, let's face it, most of us are), set a timer and explain to your child that until the buzzer goes, you are all hers. Let her choose the activity and immerse yourself in it fully. Doing this in short bursts helps to fill your child’s cup so that she’s more likely to give you space when you need to do something for yourself.
Once a month or so, organise a day where your child gets one-on-one time with just one parent, without their siblings. Visit a museum together, go shopping, play a ball game or have a lunch date. This time together feels so precious and will be treasured by both of you.
Sit your computer next to your child and work while she does her homework. Spending time together shouldn’t always mean you need to abandon your to-do list. Just your presence is often enough.
Dr Chapman believes that love languages are like personality traits that stay with us for life, but remember that as your child is developing so might her interpretation of her love language. Stay tuned to how she gives and receives love, and you might just find it’s the most powerful parenting tool you have.
(Do you know your own love language? You can take a quiz online to discover it - and you can also find an option that gives you questions to ask your children to help you identify theirs. Try it out for fun!)
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