The 5 Love Languages
Maximizing your connection with your child. We all feel busy and overwhelmed, you are trying to make sure your boss is happy with you, you spent time listening to your spouse, the bills are paid, the house is clean, and your kids feel loved. But, we cannot have it all. It is too hard. Especially if you then add kids with special needs (like a trauma history) to the mix.
In chapter 7 of the book, The Call to Love, I talk about burning out and how I was struggling to love on our kids. And so for today's blog I thought we could do a deeper dive into a strategy of loving on your kids called, The 5 Love Languages. Some of you may have heard of this, some of you may not. Some of you have used this idea in your marriages, but not with your children. So I am going to back it up and start right at the beginning.
I first learned about the idea of Love Languages over 20 years ago when I was in college. It was created by a therapist by the name of Dr Gary Chapman. Initially, his idea was to help married couples, but now the concept has expanded to reach people of all ages as the principles are transferable to any relationship. His book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts has become a New York Times bestseller with over 11 million sales. Here is a little about Dr. Chapman, from his website bio... "Since the success of his first book, Dr. Chapman has expanded his 5 Love Languages series with special editions that reach out specifically to singles, men, and parents of teens and young children... Dr. Chapman and his wife have two grown children and currently live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he serves as senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church. Dr. Chapman holds BA and MA degrees in anthropology from Wheaton College and Wake Forest University, respectively, MRE and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has completed postgraduate work at the University of North Carolina and Duke University."
In the book, The 5 Love Languages, Dr Chapman introduces the idea that there are five distinct ways we offer our love to those around us and, that we all have one way we find it easiest to give and receive love. These five ways are broken down as Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch and Quality Time.
So, when you look at your children, I want you to consider that they also, predominantly, give and receive love in one of these 5 ways. And the tricky thing is, it may be different from yours. So in parenting your children, with the limited amount of time and energy you have, I am going to suggest that you become more strategic and think through how best to offer love to your children, in a way that will make the most impact and cause them to feel really loved. If you are parenting multiple children, if you are trying to attend to the needs of your spouse, if you have made commitments to volunteer, and if you are doing your best to get to work on time, let's be smart about how you are loving on your kids. If you know what efforts will make the most impact, why not do those most of the time? It's not as though you will stop touching your children or complimenting them because you found out their love language was Service. But it means that you will pay more attention to how you are serving them, and you might put in your calendar moments for this to take place regularly.
You have two options in figuring this out. One, is you can observe your children. Take the next week and really watch them when they are attempting expressions of love. Notice which ones of the 5 languages they lean towards most often. Then try experiments of offering to them the different kinds of love and notice how they are received. Which ones give you the biggest reactions? Then you will have your answer, and you will be more effective when you are trying to display love or praise to your child in the future.
The second option is to have your child take one of the tests offered on Dr Chapman's website. If you child is at least 9 years old, you can have them take the assessment themselves. He offers it for free on his website as a PDF or online tool. I have used these assessments in family therapy sessions and found them to be really helpful. Most kids find them weird at first. But then they get into it, as they realize their parent is trying to connect with them in a meaningful way.
If you have not yet taken the test for yourself this may be a great moment for you to think more intentionally about how you best give and receive love. If you are married you may want to take the couple's assessment, or if you want to continue to focus on your relationship with your child, simply take the single's assessment. The main difference noted between the two is the wording is focused on a romantic love for the couple's assessment and more general for the single's assessment. Either one will allow you to think through how you interact with your loved ones. They take about 15 minutes and once completed, you can share this information with your spouse and children in order to better love one another.
So here is how it would work...
If you have a child who appears to have Receiving Gifts as a top love language you will want to pay more attention to the gifts that you are selecting for them. Not just for special occasions like birthdays & Christmas, but also choosing to offer them gifts on regular days too. These are the kinds of children that will be motivated by small tokens of gifts as rewards for good behavior. These are also the kinds of children that will really feel loved if you show up at home with a small gift just because you thought of them during your day. So for a younger child this could be a dollar store item, for a teen this could be a Starbucks drink. This may not come naturally to you, and may even feel a bit materialistic. But trust me, it is not. Also, pay attention to the moment when you offer the gift. With a child who values gifts, the way it is offered to them is part of the gesture. So be present with them when you give it. Look them in the eye and make sure your facial expressions match the joy of giving them this gift of love. One caution for you to remember is ... with these children, you don't want to forget to give them a gift on a special occasion. They will be terribly hurt. In the same way, choosing to take away a gift they have received, or telling them they will not receive any gifts for their birthday as a form of punishment, will be very hurtful for this child. Consequences that revolve around gifts should be thought through carefully.
Words of Affirmation is my top love language so this is always an easy one for me to write about. Children who feel loved through words are the kind of kids who are motivated by compliments. A simple, "great job" or an "I love you", will go a long way. I say "simple" because it is easy for me. But perhaps it is more of a stretch for you. If you discover a child in your home is very words-focused you will want to really begin to pay attention to the kinds of words you are speaking into their heart. Do you find yourself nagging or correcting most of the time? Have you been guilty of name calling? Those types of conversations can be really crushing to this type of child. So you may want to slow your conversation down to ensure you are giving them lots of love through your words. Cards and notes are greatly appreciated by this type of child. You may even notice they are a words person because they have saved every card they have received. If you have figured out you have this type of child in your home, pick up a few cards at the store or some cute note paper and begin randomly dropping notes in their back pack for school or on their pillow when they come home. These small expressions of love will really help them feel connected to you.
Who is the child in your home who will offer to help out? When they feel bad about something they have done will start cleaning up? It's not always obvious, as this type of love is very quiet and behind the scenes, but it is so precious. If you have someone in your home with this language they will really appreciate it when you offer to help them out. Asking, "What can I do for you?" or letting them know how you served them, "I did all your laundry today" will remind them of your love and sacrifice for them. If they are studying for a test, offer to bring them a snack. Asking them to help you with chores and working around the home together can be a great way to bond with this child. Then, make sure you specifically comment on how much you appreciate all their love and help. One caution in parenting this type of child is... try not to ignore any efforts they make around the home or to fail to follow through on what you promise to do for them. If you tell them you are going to do something, do it. They will feel really unloved if their efforts are unnoticed or promises of help are not fulfilled.
This is an easy one to figure out in children. Who is your snuggly kiddo? Who always wants to be close to you, right by your side? But it gets a bit more difficult as they become older. Most teens will not reach out for touch from their parents, and most parents don't know how to touch their teens. But remember, this doesn't have to be hugs and snuggles. This can also look like a pat on the back as you are walking by, or a fist bump. Pre teens and teens are trying to figure out how to love their parents, and look cool at the same time. If you are in a season where touch has become awkward, start back in slowly with some high fives and pay attention to your facial expressions while giving them touch. Let them know you are comfortable and relaxed, safe and full of love for them. Demonstrate every day through little moments that you notice your child and love them. For this type of child, make sure that anytime you are giving them praise, you are touching them in some small way to reinforce the encouragement. And a word of caution for those parenting kiddos with this type of love language, be aware of any history of physical abuse and I would strongly caution you, not just against corporal punishment, but anytime you use physical touch in anger. If you grab your child or push them in frustration, it will be received as very hurtful by the child, as touch is so powerful to them. Be very aware of how you are using touch with your child so that they know they are loved by you.
Quality family time is a value most of us have. Just like all of the expressions of love listed above, our goal is to do all of them! But the key with this strategy is that with your limited energy, to focus your efforts in a way that will really help your child feel connected to you. If you have a kiddo who just loves being in the same space as you... they are probably have the love language of Time. So, now that you have this information you will want to ask this child to accompany you when you run errands, you may want to give them special dates or trips together as gifts or rewards, instead of material items. You may want to find time during the week to go on walks together or invest in a favourite show you watch together regularly. If they are into a sports team, perhaps you start watching the games together. If they like Legos or tea parties, perhaps you carve out 30 minutes to play only with them. No distractions. These types of kids need a physical proximity to you in order to feel connected. They will feel hurt when you are too busy or isolating yourself. So make time with them a priority in your calendar and you will notice, they will feel loved.
I hope this discussion was helpful in bringing up practical ways for you to connect as a family. If you would like to talk about this further, please feel free to schedule a session with me by emailing me, firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a great week!