The concept of the five love languages is probably not new to you. The idea is that we all give and receive love differently—and those different ways tend to fall into five different categories. Where we get tripped up and disconnected, particularly from a romantic partner, is when we give love through our language but they receive love in a different way. You think showering them with gifts will make them feel all warm and fuzzy and meanwhile, they’re like, “If she really loved me, she’d make more time for me.”
Although identifying and learning about the love languages of you and your partner is a good idea, Brit Cowgill of Lucie’s List writes that it can also be incredibly helpful to know your child’s love language. Here’s what she says about Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages of Children:
Parenthood, according to Chapman, is really a project in meeting a child’s need for love. When you fill your child’s proverbial “emotional tank,” which you do by speaking her love language—not your own—you’re setting her up for success: “a child with a full love tank can respond to parental guidance without resentment.”
How to identify their love language
First, to refresh your memory, the five languages are:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Receiving gifts
- Quality time
- Physical touch
If you’re not sure which love language your child is most fluent in—and they’re over age 9—you can have them take a quiz online to find out. There are instructions with the quizzes for how to approach it and make it fun, depending on the child’s age. (While you’re there, you can take one, too.)
If they’re in the 5- to 8-year-old age group, a quiz isn’t the way to go because they can’t accurately verbalize their love language; instead, the 5 Love Languages website offers these tips:
Ask him or her to draw or call out some ways parents love their children. You should try not to guide their drawings or answers, limit their responses, or require more responses than what he or she is prepared to give at the time you ask.
Depending on the child’s attention span and the time of day, you may get many answers, or you may get very few. If it seems like slow going, then you may want to secretly explore the subject of love with your child for a week or so until you can deduce what he or she perceives as love. You may find yourself reading books or watching programs with your child and asking the question, “How do you know that mommy or daddy loves that little boy or little girl?” Or you may intentionally experiment by expressing love in each of the 5 ways over a week’s period of time. This will be a subjective measure, but the combination of all these suggestions—studying your child’s answers or drawings, listening to their answers about other parents and children, and “measuring” their response to your expression of each of the five love languages—should be enough to help you accurately assess your child’s primary love language.
And if they’re under five years old, they probably haven’t developed a fluency in one particular love language yet. To be safe, just give them all the love in all the ways.
Identifying your child’s love language can be helpful for finding little ways to show them extra affection in a personalized way. Cowgill compiled a bunch of great ideas for us that are geared toward each of the five languages—physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts. (Those last two are especially helpful in breaking down how to speak the language without, you know, just doing everything for them or flat-out spoiling a kid).
It’s also helpful to know that whatever love language they speak is also the language they are most likely to feel hurt by. Roughly grabbing the arm of any kid isn’t good, but it’s more devastating for a child whose love language is physical touch. And overly critical words or a harsh tone of voice will more deeply hurt a child whose love language is words of affirmation.
And finally, keep in mind: even if your child scores high in one or two languages, that doesn’t mean you should ditch the other languages’ completely; ‘quality time’ may be their preferred language, but everyone needs a hug once in a while.
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