Languages of Love – How to Discover Your Child’s Primary Love Language
Last month we began to explore in detail the different ways in which we can clearly communicate our feelings of love and appreciation for our children. In his books on this theme Gary Chapman has proposed that we all have a ‘primary’ or most effective way of receiving these messages of self worth. He calls these ways of receiving love – our love languages.
In this month’s article we will look at ways in which we can discover own children’s unique language of love, and continue to explore the remaining languages; quality time, gifts and acts of service.
Finding your child’s language of love is a bit like a scientific experiment (like most parenting really!) You need to look for clues, make observations, ask questions, collect data and beware of taking things for granted. Scientists have to try to be objective and so will you. The danger is that we let our own thoughts and feelings get in the way – if my primary love language is words of affirmation surely my child is happy with me telling him that he is a great kid! When in this process the author also suggests that you don’t tell your child directly what you are doing as this may bias your results. After all what child wouldn’t want receiving ‘gifts’ as their primary love language?
Chapman’s books include a short quiz (or you can go online) to give an idea of what your child’s primary love language might be, but it is worth going through the process with your children individually. Observe how your child expresses love to you and others, this might give you a clue because we all tend to use our own primary language to do this. Listen to what your child asks for – is it to spend more time with you (quality time) or a request for positive feedback (words of affirmation). What do they most often complain about? If given a choice what would your child prefer to do or have? – help with homework (act of service ) or a new pair of trainers (gift)?
Generally children under the age of 5 do not have a primary language but love to receive in all 5 ways. Our primary language develops over time and may even change in the teenage years, but most enduringly by the time we are adults we have one most preferred language. However, it is important that we learn and teach our children about all languages because in appreciating the differences in the way we communicate and receive love, we can begin to teach our children to relate to other people in a less selfish or egocentric way.
We give our children quality time when we give them our focused, undivided attention. This is actually more of a challenge as they get older and become more independent. Feeding, changing and cuddling is part of the routine when looking after babies and young children. But as time passes other demands take precedent like getting them up and out to school, taxiing to and from activities and overseeing the dreaded homework. Opportunities to sit down with your child without distraction (phone, computer, other siblings etc.) seem to become more and more difficult to find. With such busy lives quality time with our children has to be planned. In fact there is no greater gift you can give to your child than making an appointment in your diary to spend one on one time with them. This time can also be when you do something with them that they enjoy. Older children and teens may not want to sit down for a chat but would love for you to go ice-skating, watch them play sport or go to the cinema with them. Make a ‘date’ and let them choose the activity.
Some suggestions Chapman makes are :-
- Stop what you are doing and give your child eye contact when you are talking or listening to them. With younger children get down to their level.
- Set a timer with your child for 30 minutes and tell them that for this time you will give them your undivided attention.
- Include your child in your daily chores. Let them help with laundry, preparing a meal or helping in the garden. With younger children make it a game. Yes – it will take longer but they will be learning valuable skills and enjoying the time you can spend talking and listening to them.
- Sit down with your child and watch their favourite show or play their best video game. Ask questions and learn about the characters.
- Go to the toyshop together and just play with no intention of buying anything (but let them know of this intention first).
- Go to the play park with your child and try out all the equipment together.
- Sit down with your older child and put a ‘date time’ in your diaries. Make a list of things you would like to do together.
- Camp out in the garden and watch the stars – pop up tents are inexpensive and there are several apps you can use to explore the night sky – don’t forget the marshmallows.
- Take lots of photos and make albums together. Talk about the memories you have made. Look forward to making more.
In this day and age of consumerism and kids rooms filled to the brim with the latest gadgets it might seem surprising that Chapman considers the receiving of gifts as a love language. The most important thing to understand about this language is that the gift must be given genuinely out of love and not in lieu of words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time or service. Children whose primary language is receiving gifts experience them as meaningful symbols of their parents love. They come to associate their gift with their parent’s presence not unlike a transitional object a young child would take to crèche or school. It is also important that these ‘gifts’ are truly given in this way and are not payment or bribes for good behavior. Gifts do not even have to cost anything they can include a shell from a beach, a home-made biscuit, an old tin to collect treasures in. Wrap them up and celebrate the giving and receiving of small things. You can model this enthusiasm by showing your own appreciation for the gifts of drawings, flowers and other little things they give to you – add them to your own treasure box .
Some suggestions Chapman makes are :-
- Create a story behind the gift – why did you chose it? Why did it remind you of your child?
- When away from home post them a small package or bring them back a book or magazine.
- Keep a stash of wrapping paper, ribbons or small boxes to make your gifts special.
- Be on the look out for personalized gifts that your child would love. Save them for a special occasion or when they are having a difficult time.
- Give your child a song or verse that you make up or select, that reminds you of them.
- Hide a small gift in their lunchbox or coat pocket.
- Have a personalized book made for them or do it your self. Include your child’s name and favorite activities.
- Create a ‘special drawer’ or ‘treasure box’ where your child can keep her gifts.
- Make your child a special meal or cake for no reason except to say I love you.
Acts of Service
There are so many things we do for our children from the day they are born to the day they leave home (and beyond), it can seem hard for us to remember that we have a choice. Every one of these acts of service is an opportunity to express our love but sometimes it can feel like slavery, and that’s when we need to stop for an attitude check. Ultimately we do things for our children to enable them to grow into independent adults. It can be useful to ask ourselves at various stages what we are ‘doing’ for our children? What can they be doing for themselves? and How are we teaching them the skills they need for this goal . Some children’s primary love language is acts of service. They really feel loved when we offer to do something for them; help them with their homework, fix a favorite toy or repair a bicycle.
Some suggestions Chapman makes are :-
- Help your child practice for their sports team or other activity.
- Help your child with revision for a test, setting up a timetable or creating flash cards for quiz.
- On school nights take time with your child helping them to organize their bag and laying out their clothes for the next day.
- Start a birthday tradition when you make your child any meal they want for their birthday.
- Help your child to draw up lists of important things they want to bring on holiday. Ensure their special teddy, blanket or toys are packed.
- Offer to get involved with your child’s school or after school activity.
- Involve your child where possible in a community event, visit an old people’s home, fund raise for a children’s charity. Talk to them about the importance of service and what it means to do something purely out of an expression of love.
To truly love our children in a way that they can receive and treasure the feeling is probably the most empowering thing we can do for them as parents. For more detail I would recommend reading Chapman’s books. Passage has a small library of these books for parents to borrow. For more information email us to see the titles available.
Lynn Frank is a coordinator for Passage, the Parent Support Group for the English-speaking community in Luxembourg. If you would like to know more about our work contact us at email@example.com