Using Choices to Discover Your Child’s Love Language

Dr. Gary Chapman has written extensively on the importance of identifying which of the five love languages your child has.  First, he recommends using these steps to discover it.  Next, use the choices below as part of the discovery process.

Choices for a Five-Year-Old

The choices you offer your child depend on age and interest. The following are merely examples to stimulate your creativity. To a first-grader you might say:

“Would you like for me to bake you an apple pie (acts of service) or for us to take a walk in the park (quality time)?”

Would you rather wrestle (physical touch) or read a story together (quality time)?”

“While I am out of town for two days, would you rather I bring a present (gift) or write you a poem about what a wonderful boy you are (words of affirmation)?”

“Would you like to play our game, ‘I like you because…’ (words of affirmation) or would you like me to fix your broken toy now (acts of service)?”

The game, “I like you because…” is one in which parent and child take turns completing the sentence, “I like you because…” For example, the parent says, “I like you because you have a beautiful smile.” Then the child may say, “I like you because you read stories to me.” The parent says, “I like you because you are kind to your sister.” This is an enjoyable way of giving affirming words to the child and teaching him to affirm the parent. The game may also incorporate the ABCs so that the first “I like you…” must start with an A, as in, “Because you are active.” The second beings with a B, as in, “Because you are beautiful.”

Choices for a Ten-Year-Old

If your child is closer to ten years old, you might ask questions such as:

“For you birthday, would you rather have a new bicycle (gift) or a trip with me to Washington, D.C. (quality time)?”

“Would you rather I fix your computer this evening (acts of service) or that we play basketball together (quality time and physical touch)?”

“When we see Grandma this weekend, would you prefer that I tell her what a great job you did in school this quarter (words of affirmation) or that I buy you a surprise when we are there for doing so well (gift)?” You may choose to do both.

“Would you prefer I watch you practice your gymnastics (quality time) or that we buy you a new set of tights (gift)?”

Choices for a Fifteen-Year-Old

For a fifteen year old, the following choices might be appropriate. You and your child have bought an old car that you are trying to get in good condition by the time he is sixteen. The option is, “This Saturday, would you like us to work on the car together (quality time) or would you rather that I work on it while you spend time with your friends (acts of service)?”

“Would you prefer we buy you a jacket Saturday afternoon (gift) or that the two of us spend time at the cabin while Dad is away (quality time)?”

“Since you and I are the only ones at home tonight, would you rather we eat out (quality time) or that I fix your favorite pizza (acts of service)?”

“If you are feeling discouraged and I wanted to build you up, which would be more helpful to you—if I sat down and told you how much I love and appreciate you, and then mentioned some of your positive traits (words of affirmation) or if I simply gave you a bear hug and said, ‘I’m with you, Man'(physical touch)?”

Giving choices will be helpful only if you do it often enough to see a pattern showing a clear preference in love languages. You will probably need to offer twenty to thirty choices before you can see a clear pattern emerging. Isolated answers may just indicate the preference of the moment.

If you decide to be very creative about this, you could draw up thirty of the either/or choices, being sure that you include an equal number of options for each love language. Then present it to your child as a sort of research project on choices. Most teens will cooperate in such an effort, and the results may give you a clear reading on your child’s love language.

A Fifteen-Week Experiment

If none of the above suggestions give you much clue as to your child’s primary love language, this one may work for you. But if you begin it, be prepared to continue for the full term, fifteen weeks.

First, choose one of the five love languages to focus on for two weeks as you express love to your child. For example, if you begin with quality time, each day you will seek to communicate your love by giving your child at least thirty minutes of your undivided attention. One day take her to breakfast. Another day, play a table game of read a book together. As you give this amount of undivided attention, observe how your child responds. If, by the end of the two weeks, your child is begging for freedom, you know you have to look elsewhere. If, however you see a new twinkle in her eye and you are getting positive comments on how much she enjoys your time together, you may have found what you were looking for.

After the two weeks, take a week off, not totally withdrawing but giving about one-third the time you did before. This allows the relationship to move closer to what it was before. Then select another love language and focus on it for the next two weeks. For example, if you choose physical touch, you will touch your child in some meaningful way at least four times every day. So, before he leaves for school, you give him a hug and kiss. When he comes home, you greet him with a big hug. When he sits down to dinner, rub his back for a minute. Later, when he is watching TV, pat him on the back. Repeat this process every day, varying your expressions of physical touch, but always giving meaningful touches at least four times a day.

Then observe his response. If by the end of the two weeks he is pulling back and saying, “Stop touching me,” you know that this is not his primary love language. But if he is going with the flow, letting you know that it feels good, you may be on the right track.

The following week, draw back somewhat and notice your child’s response. Then choose another love language and follow the same scenario. Keep observing your child’s behavior as you move through the next weeks. He may begin requesting one language you spoke previously. If so, he is giving you a clue. Or he might complain that you stopped doing what you did two weeks ago; that’s a clue, too.

If your child wonders what you are up to, you can respond, “I want to love you in every way that I can, so that you will know how much I care about you.” Don’t mention the concept of primary love languages. And, as you are pursuing this experiment, keep in mind that your child still needs love shown through all the love languages—soothing words, focused attention, acts of love, appropriate gifts, and physical touch along with loving eye contact.

If You Have Teenagers…

If you are rearing teenagers, you know that this job is like none other in the world. Because of the changes they are experiencing, your teens’ giving and receiving of love may also change with their moods. Most teens go through periods that can best be described as “grunt stages,” because all you can get out of them is a couple of muffled words that sound like grunts.

Mom: “Hi, Honey, how are you doing?”

Tim: “OK.” (barely audible)

Mom: “What have you been up to this morning?”

Tim: “Nuthin’.” (barely audible)

A teenager in this difficult stage may not be able to receive any love language except physical touch, and only then if you are quick about it. Of course, these teens do come up for air now and then, and during their more coherent times you will want to show them all the love you can, especially in their own primary language.

Teenagers at times make it difficult for you to fill their emotional love tank. They are testing you, to see if you really love them. They may do this by acting sullen for no obvious reason, making something more difficult for you than it should be, or simply by being passive-aggressive in their behavior. Such behavior may be their subconscious way of asking, “Do you really love me?”

These behaviors are always a test for parents. If you can remain calm, cool, and pleasant (firm but pleasant), you pass the test and your teens will eventually mature beyond that difficult stage.

When Dan was thirteen, he began testing his parents. His father, Jim, felt some initial frustration but then realized that he had let Dan’s love tank go dry. Knowing that Dan’s primary love language was quality time, he decided to spend a whole weekend with his son, filling that tank up—quite a challenge since teenagers have a large love tank. After their weekend together, Jim felt that he had done what he set out to do, and resolved that he would never again let Dan’s love tank run dry.

The evening they came back, Jim had an important meeting, one that Dan knew about. Just as Jim was leaving, Dan called, “Dad, got a minute?” Here was the test. Dan was really asking, “Dad, do you really love me?” So many parents are trapped by this test and blow their cool.

Fortunately, Jim realized what was happening and set a time to talk with Dan. He said, “I have to get to my meeting right now; let’s get together as soon as I come home, about 9:30.” If Jim had lost his patience with Dan and said, “I just spent the whole weekend with you! What else do you need?” he could have punctured a hole in the love tank he had just spent forty-eight hours filling up.

Becoming Multilingual

Whatever your child’s love language may be, remember that it’s important to speak all five languages. It is easy to make the mistake of using one love language to the exclusion of the others. This is especially true of gifts, because they seem to take less of our time and energy. But if we fall into the trap of giving our children too many gifts, we deprive them of healthy and full love tanks, and we can also cause them to see the world through materialistic eyes.

In addition, learning to speak the five love languages will help us to nurture people throughout our lives, not only our children, but spouses, friends, and relatives. Right now, our emphasis is on nurturing our children, but we know that in a few years they will be reaching out to all sorts of people, most of them quite different from themselves.

As parents, we need to remember that learning the love languages is a maturational process, and that becoming mature is a slow, painful, and often difficult journey. As we become multilingual, we also will be helping our children to learn how to give and receive in all the love languages. As we are faithful in loving and providing examples, we can then envision our children moving into their adult lives able to share love with others in so many ways. When this happens, they will be outstanding adults!

Taken with permission from The 5 Love Languages of Children by Dr. Gary Chapman.