One of the constant questions many of us ask ourselves as parents is, “Am I doing enough to make sure my child is happy?” We often wonder if we are providing the foundation they need in order to grow into productive adults. Did we choose the right school? Have we instilled the right values? And on and on and on.
One surefire way to ensure that we are creating the strongest bond with our children is to understand their love languages. In Dr. Gary Chapman’s book “The Secret to Loving Children Effectively – The 5 Love Languages of Children,” he breaks down the 5 different types, how to discover which is your child’s language, and what it looks like when you serve love the way they receive it, putting the love languages to work in your own family.
Imagine being so attuned to your child’s needs on a daily basis – creating a space for validation and a strong foundation of mutual respect and love in your relationship with them. This is what we all want and dream of, right? Understanding the different love languages and how to engage once you are aware of your child’s love language allows for so much growth in our relationship with our child (not to mention as an added bonus – it actually helps alleviate the tug of war in discipline). So, let’s break them down.
Words of Affirmation: More than just “I love you,” these kiddos like to hear kind words of appreciation from you. Using words of encouragement, especially with young children, helps to foster growth. Using words of affirmation as standalone comments (“I’m so proud of you” vs “I’m so proud of you for getting an A”) helps to build self-confidence and self-assurance.
What Words of Affirmation may look like with your kiddo:
- Leaving lunchbox notes reminding them how amazing they are;
- Setting up an email address and sending an email with little reminders of how proud or amazed you were by something they did – and then giving them access to the email at a certain milestone;
- My favorite: Text them random messages of affirmation, especially when you have to be apart; and
- Daily check-ins for what you are most proud of that they did that day: If you caught them being nice to someone or if they accomplished something that was very hard for them, making sure you tell them that you noticed.
Acts of Service: Parenting in itself is an act of service to our children. We signed up to ensure our children become productive adults and we instill in them the morals and values that we hope they carry for the rest of their lives. When our kiddos’ love language is Acts of Service, our role as parents is to make sure we are “serving” their needs beyond the basics of food, shelter, and clothing to serving their whole self (morally, spiritually, and emotionally).
Using Acts of Service as a bonding tool can look like:
- Volunteering together for organization or cause close to their heart;
- Getting their things ready for them on a morning they have something hard to do in order to take one thing off of their plate;
- Helping them out with a difficult task judgment free; or
- Signing them up for a class that they’ve been wanting to take in order to help them grow in an area they are trying to master.
Quality Time: These are our kiddos who crave connection with us. It may seem like they want our undivided attention all the time, but connection is what drives them. For our kiddos where Quality Time is important, we need to make sure we are carving out time just for them. If we aren’t meeting the need for connection in a way they can receive it, this unmet need often starts to show up as misbehavior as a way to “ask” for our time and attention.
What Quality Time may look like:
- Scheduling special “Mom and me” dates on a regular basis;
- Screen-free time, with you just following your kids’ lead on what they want to do;
- Creating a bucket list of adventures to complete with one another; or
- Engaging in their favorite activity with them.
Gifts: Who doesn’t love getting gifts? Well, actually my husband doesn’t… but this blog isn’t about him. Kiddos whose love language is Gifts especially love receiving gifts. When it comes to Gifts as a love language, we aren’t just giving our kiddos stuff for no reason to try to make them happy, we are being thoughtful about what we are giving them with intention and meaning behind it.
Using the love language of Gifts to create a stronger bond with your child may look like:
- Creating a special “Caught Being Awesome” treasure box with little trinkets from the dollar store your kid will love;
- Finding unique personalized items made just for them;
- Making or taking them for a special meal, especially after a hard day or after they do something hard (like taking a test they’ve been studying hard for or auditioning for a role) no matter the outcome; or
- Making special one of a kind crafts with them (bonus points for you, Mom, if Quality Time happens to be their secondary love language)!
And finally, we have the love language of Physical Touch: These are our kiddos who love hugs, hand-holding and who like to snuggle at night. Chapman calls this the “easiest” of the love languages for parents because it doesn’t require any special tools for us to share love this way – though I find that many parents who have “Physical Touch” kiddos are not particularly inclined to physical touch themselves.
If you have a kiddo whose primary love language is Physical Touch, some suggestions to enhance your bond would be:
- Schedule a special movie night where you snuggle while watching the movie;
- Establish a special goodbye routine that includes a special handshake or hug;
- Read together while sitting close; or
- Random hugs (even for our teenagers) or even quick squeezes or pats letting them know you are thinking about them.
As with everything in parenting, in mental health, in relationships, and in life – the love languages are simply a set of ideas to work with, not a roadmap for exactly what to do. Test them, play with them, even talk with your child about them if you’d like in order to determine what will work the best. Know that if you are parenting with intention and love, you are doing a great job. Keep it up!