Discovering how your child feels most loved
This year I’ve been following a daily prayer devotional to pray for my children. Each day has a different focus and I have been drawn back to the first day’s theme time and again – pray that your child(ren) would feel loved – loved by God and loved by you.
In the book The Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman describes five different ways people show and receive love, which are quality time, physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts. Once children reach around five to seven years of age they’ll often begin to best communicate in one or two of these particular love languages.
From a very young age, it was clear both my daughters communicated love through quality time but that was where the similarities ended. My youngest also favoured physical touch, and would sit on our laps hugging for hours, while my eldest preferred words of affirmation, was always full of loving compliments and thrived when she was praised.
Understanding this has enabled me to be mindful of showing my daughters love in the ways that best resonate with them. However, over the years it’s been helpful to see this isn’t set in stone and they might respond more favourably to one of the other love languages at different times. This has been particularly true as they have gone through certain physical or emotional transitions or if particular challenges have arisen.
One example was when my youngest was struggling with friendships. Hurtful words had been spoken to her regularly and I noticed that words of affirmation became more important than physical touch. She shrugged off my arm as I attempted to place it around her shoulder on the walk home from school. However, telling her I was proud of her or how I’d noticed a certain quality in her caused her face to light up as she beamed from ear to ear. Another example was when my not very tactile eldest daughter had to undergo emergency surgery recently – all she wanted was hugs and kisses as she recovered.
Recognising this has helped me to not second-guess myself when my daughters are not responding well to my usual attempts at affection. Instead, I can take a step back and spend time observing how they are responding, so that I can communicate love in the way they need it at that particular time.
Here’s a brief description of each of the love languages, and some ideas to help you communicate your love to your children in a way that works for them.
Words of affirmation
Children thrive on praise and encouraging words and compliments can go a long way. It’s not just about praising a child’s behaviour and achievements, but appreciating and noticing them for the unique and special person they are.
- Leave an encouraging note in their lunch box
- Give them compliments
- Praise them in front of other people
Children with this love language adore receiving gifts. It’s not about the size or value of the gift, but giving them small thoughtful gifts regularly is just as meaningful.
- Show them you have been thinking of them when you have been away or working long hours by bringing back a small gift
- Keep a collection of small inexpensive gifts to give them now and again – just because!
Children who value quality time love having undivided attention. Switching off your phone and spending uninterrupted time playing, reading or watching a movie with them will make them feel so loved.
- Spend time doing something they enjoy like going on a walk or playing a game together
- Cuddle up together and watch a movie
- Spend some time making eye contact and asking them about their day
Acts of service
If this is your child’s love language they will enjoy you doing nice things for them. As parents we are often doing practical things to help our children – but this is about knowing what acts are particularly important to them and doing them regularly.
- Have fun doing their homework with them
- Offer to drive them somewhere when they would usually catch the bus
- Spend time doing their hair for them or helping them build a Lego model
If your child’s love language is physical touch they will feel loved when you respond in this way. Young children will enjoy being hugged, kissed and having their hand held, but as they get older this might change and a simple touch on the arm or pat on their back will mean so much to them.
- Sit your child on your lap while you tell them a story
- Hold their hand when you are going on a walk
- Give them a fist bump or link arms with them
You will know your child better than anyone, so you will be in the best place to assess their love languages. Although our children will receive love best from one or two of the love languages, they will always benefit from all the ways in which we show them unconditional love.
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