Children express and experience love in different ways. It’s common to have different love languages within a family and it can be tricky to navigate.
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.
What is true for romantic love is also true for the love we have for our children. Dr. Gary Chapman says knowing your child’s love language can make all the difference in your relationship.
Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell introduced the concept of love languages in the book The Five Love Languages and later in The Five Love Languages of Children. They said some people love through physical touch, others through words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, or quality time.
1. Physical Touch
Though a hug might say “I love you” to all kids, for ones who adore physical touch, it shouts, “I LOVE YOU!” If children are constantly in your space, touching you, or playing with your hair, that’s a signal that they need to be touched more.
Some ways to express love via physical touch include:
- sitting near or beside a child
- for smaller kids, giving lots of kisses and hugs, being seated on a parent’s lap
- for older kids, also adding a pat on the back, holding hands, a high-five, or an arm around their shoulder
- occasionally yelling “group hug” for your whole family, and for more fun, include your pets!
- playing games like Twister
- playing This Little Piggy, Pat-a-Cake, tag, piggyback rides, and airplane
- creating a “spa night” and do manicures, pedicures, and shoulder massages
- making up handshakes
- gently squeezing their hands to say, “I love you!”
- snuggling close on the couch and read together
Children who feel loved when they receive things aren’t just pandering for more stuff. Someone whose primary love language is gifts tends to care about how a present is wrapped, and he often remembers who gave him what for months or years after the fact.
Another tip-off? Your kid has trouble throwing out things he’d been given, even if he hasn’t looked at them in ages.
Some ideas for tangible things as an expression of love include:
- choosing small, inexpensive tokens, thoughtful gifts, or homemade presents. This will mean a lot to your child during ordinary days and more special occasions
- choosing gifts that fit the interests of your child.
- making a collection of unique gift boxes and wrapping paper (choose their favorite colors) that can be used for even the simplest gifts
- gifting your child a song, either one you create or a special song that reminds you of them
- keeping a chart and some stickers to record achievements and rewarding your child with a gift
- creating a photo album or book about them and some special moments you’ve shared
- buying a new shirt that captures their personality
- making them a special treat or their favorite meal
- gathering hand-picked flowers or anything from nature that your child would find special
- framing a special photograph of the child doing something they love
- gifting a book you and your child can read together.
3. Words of Affirmation
For kids who listen intently and speak sweetly, your loving words matter most. If your child beams whenever you praise her or offers you lots of sweet feedback, she probably relishes words of affirmation.
They feel special when you tell them you appreciate them by:
- using encouraging words and phrases often
- saying “I love you” many times a day
- saying “I love to watch you…” (play, draw, sing, help, etc.)
- affirming both their efforts and achievements
- creating a name of affection for your child that is only used between the two of you
- when a child makes a mistake, acknowledging their good intentions, effort, determination, etc.
- painting rocks with encouraging sayings
- writing little love notes and leaving them around the house or in their lunchbox
4. Acts of Service
Acts of service is the most peculiar-sounding love language, but kids who speak it appreciate thoughtful gestures, like buying flavored seltzer and making a mocktail complete with a mini umbrella and a pineapple slice. He may beg you to tie his shoes for him, fix a broken toy, or fluff his pillow. As a result, parents of these kids often end up feeling like servants.
Acts of service can include:
- for younger children, instead of telling them to go to bed, carrying them to bed and tucking them in
- making them a special treat or their favorite meal
- making them a drink and bringing it to them
- when running late for an appointment, helping your child quickly finish what they are doing so you can both be ready faster, rather than just telling them to hurry
- making a list of your child’s favorite things to do with you and do one of these things periodically when they least expect it
- doing a chore they would normally do (e.g., cleaning the playroom, making their bed)
- brushing their hair
- organizing/cleaning their closet or drawers
- checking out library books you know they would like
- sitting down to do their homework together
- giving your child a surprise room makeover
5. Quality Time
These children feel most valued when you choose to spend time with them. A child who often says, “Watch this!” or “Play with me,” is begging for quality time.
Some ways to demonstrate quality time include:
- allocating a special time for your child to just be there and listen to their stories and feelings
- bringing your child along during errands
- looking at the stars together
- drawing or journaling together
- allowing them to help you around the house
- taking walks together and having conversations (call it “twalks” to make it fun)
- stopping what you are doing and making eye contact with your child when they tell you something
- finding silly things to laugh about together
- doing fun activities and playing games together
A child’s love language can be identified through observing how they express affection to you and other loved ones. Oftentimes, how they express their love to you is how they want to be loved too!
Another way to find out is the quiz here https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/love-language