By Neil McNerney, Parenting with Purpose
During my professional travels, I have had the privilege of talking with and learning from Gary Chapman, author of the book series “The Five Love Languages.” The book series is excellent and has stood the test of time. Initially, the concept was developed for couples, but we have found that the concepts work for many relationships, including the parent-child connection.
When I work with families, I often hear that there is a mismatch in communication. It seems that one person is trying to convey a certain idea, but the other person hears something different. Even though we might be speaking the same language, something gets lost in translation. The love language concept can help parents speak the same language as their child.
The premise is simple: There are five ways that humans prefer to receive love: Physical touch, words of affirmation, gift giving, quality time, and acts of service. Let me share some details of each love language and give specific advice for each type.
Those who love physical touch are often cuddlers. They like to stay close, often leaning on their parent. They love back rubs and often will play with their mother’s hair. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to love having her arms stroked, especially by her grandmother. This is the child that will often be playful by poking or tickling.
Parenting Advice for Physical Touch: Often times it is those moments that a physical touch child can be most annoying that they need touch the most. Since I often work with the whole family in the room, I see this in action. When stress increases, the physical touch child might start playfully kicking his mother’s foot. I’ll usually ask the mom to put her arm around him, which almost always decreases the annoying kicking.
Words of Affirmation
Words of Affirmation kids love to be told that they are loved, admired, and important. The words are the main channel that they use to understand how people feel about them. They are often asking for feedback as a way to develop their own sense of self-esteem. Words of Affirmation kids love to hear how awesome they are.
Parenting advice for Words of Affirmation: Take some time every day to remind them how much you love them and how great you think they are. Hellos and goodbyes are important for them. Don’t worry about overdoing it. Also remember that critical words will hurt this type of person more than others. Be careful your criticism. They often don’t need it and will make things worse.
The love language of Gift Giving is less about the actual gift and more about the time and thought that went into the gift. A Gift Giver child is one who spends lots of time on a card, or a craft, and is very excited when it is opened. For a Gift Giver, it is definitely the thought that counts.
Parenting advice for Gift Givers: Keep a list of things or activities that you notice excites your child. Then, when it is time to give a gift, review those things that you noticed and give them something on the list.
Acts of Service
A child whose main love language is Acts of Service is someone who loves to take care of other people. As a young child, they love doing things along with their parents, such as cooking, yard work, etc. The love lies in the act, not in the thanks that might come after. They see a chance to make someone’s life easier and spring into action.
Parenting advice for Acts of Service: It’s the little things that often count. Find simple ways to make their life a little better, especially when they are cranky or tired. For instance, I would often bring my daughter a cup of coffee to her room her senior year, especially when I knew she was super tired. It’s a small gesture, but one that was appreciated.
The Quality Time child loves spending time together. This is the child that loves game night, wants to go to the store with you, and is often by your side. It is the companionship that they love the most. In sports, they are often drawn to team activities vs solo pursuits and often have more fun before and after the event vs. the actual event.
Parenting advice for Quality Time: Take time to schedule activities. Quality Time kids love family game nights, going to the movies, or taking hikes together.
Taking the time to learn your child’s love language will increase connection and security, helping your child feel important and loved.
Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of “Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!” and “The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s.” He can be reached at email@example.com.