Storybooks and television tell our children that love is a mushy, wonderful thing that’s all butterflies and romance and rainbows. But as adults, we know that loving others—whether a spouse, a family member, a friend or simply your neighbor—is more often an exercise in self-sacrifice and putting others first. Butterflies are optional.
Dr. Gary Chapman says knowing your child’s love language can make all of the difference in your relationship. Here, he shares descriptions of the five love languages. Look over the 5 Steps for Discovering Your Child’s Love Language.
1. Physical Touch. Hugs and kisses are the most common way of speaking this love language, but there are other ways, too. A dad tosses his year-old son in the air. He spins his seven-year-old daughter round and round, and she laughs wildly. A mom reads a story with her three-year-old on her lap.
For children who understand this love language, physical touch will communicate love more deeply than will the words, “I love you,” or giving a present, fixing a bicycle, or spending time with them. Of course, they receive love in all the languages, but for them the one with the clearest and loudest voice is physical touch. Without hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and other physical expressions of love, their love tanks will remain less than full.
2. Words of Affirmation. In communicating love, words are powerful. Words of affection and endearment, words of praise and encouragement, words that give positive guidance all say, “I care about you.” Such words are like a gentle, warm rain falling on the soul; they nurture the child’s inner sense of worth and security. Even though such words are quickly said, they are not soon forgotten. A child reaps the benefits of affirming words for a lifetime.
3. Quality Time. Quality time is focused attention. It means giving a child your undivided attention. Quality time is a parent’s gift presence to a child. It conveys this message: “You are important. I like being with you.” It makes the child feel that he is the most important person in the world to the parent. He feels truly loved because he has his parent all to himself. When you spend quality time with children, you need to go to their physical/emotional level of development. The most important factor in quality time is not the event itself but that you are doing something together, being together.
If quality time is your child’s primary love language, you can be sure of this: Without a sufficient supply of quality time and focused attention, your child will experience a gnawing uneasiness that his parents do not really love him.
4. Gifts. The giving and receiving of gifts can be a powerful expression of love, at the time they are given and often extending into later years. The most meaningful gifts become symbols of love, and those that truly convey love are part of a love language.
Most children respond positively to gifts, but for some, receiving gifts is their primary love language. You might be inclined to think that this is so for all children, judging from the way they beg for things. It is true that all children—and adults—want to have more and more. But those whose language of love is receiving gifts will respond differently when they get their gift. Remember, for them this is love’s loudest voice. They see the gift as an extension of you and your love.
5. Acts of Service. Some people speak acts of service as their primary love language. If service is your child’s primary love language, your acts of service will communicate most deeply that you love Johnny or Julie. When that child asks you to fix a bicycle or mend a doll’s dress, he or she does not merely want to get a task done; your child is crying for emotional love.
If your child’s primary love language is acts of service, this does not mean that you must jump at every request. It does mean that you should be extremely sensitive to those requests and recognize that your response will either help fill the child’s love tank or else puncture the tank. Each request calls for a thoughtful, loving response.
Taken with permission from The Five Love Languages of Children by Dr. Gary Chapman.