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The term “Love Language” was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman and he believes that learning someone’s love language is essential to connecting on a more meaningful level.
Do you ever feel frustrated when your children squirm from hugs and kisses? Or, maybe you shower them in compliments and they seem annoyed? There is nothing wrong with showing love and support in this way, but for some children it may make them uncomfortable. If this is your child, THEY ARE OKAY! In reviewing Dr. Gary Chapman’s “Love Languages” for adults, we see some similarities for how they apply and are adapting them to parent-child relationships. The “Love Languages” are words of affirmation (compliments), quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. This Valentine’s Day, we challenge you to notice how your child responds to your typical way of showing love and, if you notice they may not like your way, we encourage you to try some of these ideas and see how it goes.
Words of Affirmation
Do you have a child that asks, “did I do that right? or is this right? or did I do a good job?” Or maybe they glow with joy whenever you compliment them? Do you find your child praising you? If you found yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then maybe your child needs words of affirmation!
Your child may receive love and support best when you communicate through words of encouragements, praise and gratitude. Examples may be “you did a great job!”, “thank you for helping me with cleaning the house!” or “I am so lucky to be your parent!”. Here are a few ways to offer words of affirmation to your child:
- Slip a sweet note in their lunchbox. (It could be as simple as a smile face on their napkin)
- Praise them both privately and in front of others. (Be mindful not to embarrass your child)
- Notice & acknowledge their efforts. (Say things like, “I like how you worked so hard on your homework today”)
- Call them by a nickname they like. (Remember not to embarrass them in front of others)
In our programs, we hear from children all the time that they want their parents to pay attention to them. Do you have a child that interrupts you a lot? A child that likes to show you what they are doing? Do they ask you to join them when they’re playing? If you found yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then maybe your child needs more quality time with you!
Your child may receive love and support best when you give them your undivided attention. You do not have to be with them 24/7, but even 10 minutes off of your devices may make a huge difference for children needing quality time. Here are a few ways to give the gift of quality time to your child:
- Dedicate and commit to spending on-on-one time with your child. (Read a book, do a puzzle, play a board game, teach them how to ride a bike, cook a meal together, whatever it is, remember to have the time be age appropriate)
- Turn off your phone and leave it in another room while helping with homework
- Go on a walk together
- Take them with you when you run errands and make it fun. (Remember, you are teaching your children how to be adults some day so making grocery shopping fun can be creating a budget together and sticking to it or asking your child to choose the vegetables or fruits to buy. Giving choices works here too!)
Do you have a child that cherishes every gift they’ve received? Does your child not ask for more things, but glows when you surprise them with a gift? Maybe your child takes the time to unwrap a gift they’re given? If you found yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then maybe your child sees love and support through receiving gifts!
Your child may receive love and support best when they receive physical tokens that express your love to them. Receiving gifts does not mean your child only cares about the material object or that you should buy them things. It means that they cherish the fact that you spent time thinking about them and choosing a gift that would make them happy! Here are a few ways to support your child if they like knowing you are thinking about them:
- Create a chore chart with your child. (Put stickers or draw stars on the chart when they accomplish the chores. This can also work with homework, daily hygiene or whatever your hopes and expectations are for your children. Get creative, post it on the refrigerator or the wall and catch your child doing good things, then reward them with the sticker or star. Words are not necessary because if your child likes it when you spend time thinking about you (receiving gifts), they’ll notice the chart!
- Keep a treasure chest to surprise them with occasionally. (This could be a box, container, hope chest, whatever you have. Put baby pictures in there, a few current pictures that you want to treasure, art work, school projects/tests, a napkin or something with a logo on it that reminds you of a place you and your child went or a place you hope to take them some day)
- Leave a sweet note or pick a flower to put in their lunchbox
- Value any gift they give to you! (Whether it’s a drawing or a project, tell them how much you like it by hanging it up. Don’t worry if it doesn’t match your home decor, everyone will notice it and you will be able to proudly share that your child made it)
Acts of Service
Does your child like to ask for help when you are busy, even with things they know how to do on their own? Does your child like it when you make their lunch instead of telling them to eat the free lunch at school? Does your child get upset when you say you are listening, but you are on your phone or laptop? If you found yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then maybe your child is at their best through acts of service, meaning actions are louder than words!
Your child may receive love and support best when they see you do what you say and you say what you mean. You do not have to do every request your child asks (as fostering self-reliance is important), but an occasional yes to their asks for help can go a long way. Here are a few ways to implement acts of service with your child:
- Even though you know your child can do something independently, if they ask, stop what you’re doing and help them. (As you are helping them, remember to praise and encourage throughout and say things like, “I know you could have done this yourself but I’m happy you want to do it together”. Comments like this will go a long way, especially as your children grow into teens and young adults. They’ll know you are a parent they can count on and who prioritizes them)
- When they accomplish something, make their favorite meal as a reward or take the time out of your busy schedule to show up and be present. (When your child invites you to something, show up. Put work and other priorities aside and show up for your kid. They will notice!)
- Teach your children life-work balance. (When you child does something great, like get a 100% on a test, reward them by giving them a day off from chores or step away from you busy schedule and bake a cake to celebrate together)
- Bring them snacks or water while they’re doing their homework. (Parents so often think homework time needs to be uninterrupted or their child will get distracted. Bringing in a snack or drink can be a silent act. Just think, one day you will be working at home completely focused and your child may bring you a snack or drink. How cool would that be?)
Does your child love to play with your hair or really like it when you brush their hair? Does your child ask to be held or cuddled? Does your child like to practically sit on your lap or as close as possible, even though you may think they are too old for cuddles or that much closeness? If you found yourself saying yes to any of these questions, then maybe your child sees love and support through physical touch!
Your child may receive love and support best through affectionate, parental warmth! When we think of physical touch in relation to our children, most of us think about hugs and kisses. Here are a few ways to offer physical touch with your child:
- Cuddle and watch a movie together. (Add some popcorn for added fun)
- Give high fives or create a special handshake. (Children love special handshakes!)
- When you notice your child may be feeling sad or upset, ask your child if they need a hug. (If they say no, ask what they do need)
- Give hugs/kisses when they leave for school or to say goodnight (But remember, not all children like physical touch so don’t push it on them. Ask permission and if they say no, figure out which other way of showing love and support is best for your child. Also remember, not all children are alike. Some may like hugs and kisses and others may prefer quality time)
Remember, children are unique and their way of receiving love and support is unique to them. We encourage you to pay attention to how your child reacts when you show them different ways of love and support and then try out the different suggestions. If your children are old enough to have a conversation, share this blog with them and figure it out together.
No matter the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!
*To learn more about Dr. Gary Chapman’s love languages for children, please see his book, “The 5 Love Languages of Children“.