I have often heard that you need to parent your children differently based on their individual needs and personality, but I have always been hesitant in disciplining and treating my children differently. After all, I want to be fair in the way I treat them. However, children are different from one another. They have unique emotional needs and respond to situations differently. After having three kids, I can definitely see how each of them respond to my affections and discipline in very different ways.
The idea behind Gary Chapman’s book (The 5 Love Languages of Children) is that even though everyone needs to be (unconditionally) loved in all five love languages in order to emotionally mature, each person craves more of one of the languages than the other four. This is true in children, teens and adults, male or female. Communicate love to your child in their specific primary language, and you will fill their “love tanks,” as he calls it, which builds their self-esteem, encourages them to freely learn and explore, and helps them to be more responsive to parental guidance.
WHAT ARE THE 5 LOVE LANGUAGES?
Physical Touch: A few ways you can show your love and affection in the language of physical touch is by hugging, kissing, tossing him up in the air, reading a book for him while he sits in your lap, scratching or rubbing his back, giving him a foot rub, patting him on the back, giving piggyback rides, tickling, or wrestling.
Physical touch is necessary in both genders and at every age, even the difficult teenage years where they purposely try to avoid your affections. Just keep in mind that these children may need to have the type of physical touch they receive occasionally adjusted according to their comfort level and what is appropriate for their age. For instance, a piggyback ride may not be as welcome with an older child as a simple pat on back.
Words of Affirmation: This includes verbalizing appreciation, complimenting, giving praise, or using encouraging or affectionate words. The comment should be sincere, heartfelt and justified. In other words, don’t unnecessarily lavish them with compliments or they will see right through it or even learn to expect such praise from everyone for the rest of their lives.
Because children think we actually believe everything we say to them, we need to be cautious in what we say. Words have the ability to uplift one’s spirits or cut them down to the core. The mood, tone and manner in which we speak to a child are often not forgotten, even though the situation or what was said can easily be. Thus we need to be careful in not only what we say but in how we say it. (The right message conveyed in the right way.) Make requests rather than demands and with an upward inflection. Avoid yelling and using harsh tones, rather use soft, loving and positive tones and comments.
Quality Time: Do you have a child that won’t leave your side while you are cooking or begs for you to play with him all day long? Then you may have a child that speaks in the language of quality time. These children have the deep need to feel important and that we like them by being provided with lots of upbeat, undivided attention. Carve out individual private time to create lasting memories – play games, do chores together, go on a trip, or just establish a regular dinnertime and bedtime routine (when they are likely most attentive and receptive to meaningful conversations). Make sure it’s not rushed but relaxed and with loving eye contact. If you have to, schedule it into your weekly calendar just like you do all your meetings and appointments.
Gifts: Every child likes to receive gifts, but to child that speaks in this love language, a gift is not a material object but a tangible expression of love. Each gift may have a sentimental value and even a special place to be stored or displayed. Gifts given for the purpose of showing your unconditional love for this type of child should be genuine, chosen carefully and presented in special and creative ways. Choose meaningful, thoughtful and individualized tokens over impressive gifts and short-term desires… A pretty stone you found on your hike, some handpicked wild flowers placed on their bed, a hand knitted scarf, a shell from your vacation, a cool new pen placed in their backpack, a balloon delivered at school, a nicely written card on their bathroom mirror, their favorite pack of gum in their jacket pocket, some money in their wallet for a special treat, a special message written on a banana in their lunchbox, their new soccer cleats wrapped and presented when the entire family is gathered, or a shopping trip with you for school clothes.
A few words of caution (though this should not deter you from freely expressing love in the form of appropriate gifts for these type of children)…
- Gifts should never be given out of (our) guilt, (their) merit or as a bribe or payment for a service, but purely as an expression of love. If you give gifts as a reward, they may feel like they need to earn our love.
- Gifts should never be a substitute for the other four love languages.
- Too many gifts may lead a child into selfishness.
Acts of Service: These are services that are internally motivated and without selfish concern. Think loving and sacrificial, not reluctant slave work. Make her a favorite dessert, hem her skirt, fix her broken toy, repair an old car for her to drive, do her most dreaded chore, help her with homework, help her get out of a bind, teach her how to ride her bike or tie her shoes.
Again, you have to be careful with this love language, as doing too much “service” may actually be a disservice, hindering their mature development. But this is easily “fixed” by teaching them to do skills, such as cooking or laundry, for themselves. Go serve together at a local soup kitchen, bring back grocery carts from the parking lot, or prepare a meal together for a friend in need. It may be a bit timely and inconvenient for you at times, but it pays off in the long run and it’s also considered an act of service and example of hospitality.
How do I know which language my child speaks?
Notice how your child expresses love to you. Listen to your child’s most frequent complaints (an underlying need that is not being met). Ask them questions like “How do you know I love you?” or a series of “Would you rather ______ or ______,” filling in the blanks with various examples from each type of love language. Have them take the assessment quiz. Experiment with expressing love in each language (one at a time for a period of two weeks) and observe their responses. Keep in mind that children under five have not yet developed a preference, and that children can change and go through stages, so it may be necessary to re-assess.
Remember that it takes practice, patience, dedication, and even getting out of your comfort zone to learn how to love your children in ways that are foreign to your own way of naturally expressing love. So don’t get discouraged. Even if it seems contrived, each day you practice it will get easier and easier. But its benefits are well worth the trial.
Is it possible for my child to speak more than one language?
Yes! I was having a difficult time discovering my own love language and that of my son. In both instances I had narrowed it down to two, but could not identify just one. After taking the assessment quiz, it became very apparent that each of us had two primary love languages.
Discipline and Love
Chapman suggests extending this principle to disciplining and training your child. If a child’s love tank is full, the child will be motivated and more receptive to parental guidance. When we understand our children’s needs and speak their love language, they trust us enough to listen to and respond to our suggestions. In other words, disciplining will be easier and more effective, and there will be less delinquent behavior.
Here are few tips from the expert:
- Children will continually test our love through their behavior. Because they need constant reassurance, we need to consistently give love no matter what the behavior.
- A child that misbehaves generally has a need (emotional or physical – like hunger, fatigue, pain, illness); so don’t overlook the need behind the offense. Before resorting to punishment, ask yourself if your child’s love tank is depleted.
- Don’t punish a child that genuinely feels sorry. Punishment wipes away guilt, leaving a clean slate. Children need a bit of guilt to build healthy consciences. So practice grace and forgive remorseful children.
- Whenever possible, avoid disciplining a child in his primary love language. For example, if their language is “quality time,” don’t put them in isolation. If they respond most to physical touch, avoid spanking. Using harsh, critical words to a child that speaks in the language of “words of affirmation” is more damaging than to a child that speaks in “receiving gifts.”
- In any case, use their primary language to show love before and after corrective discipline, always keep eye contact, and never withhold affection (such as a hug) as a means of punishment.
- Children remember feelings more than facts – if they felt good, respected and not criticized or humiliated during a task, they are more apt to continue doing it.
Understanding and regularly speaking all five languages will improve your relationship with your children and give them the confidence to learn and succeed. When they don’t receive it from us, they crave and seek to fulfill their needs elsewhere and in possibly unhealthy ways.
Personally, learning the five ways to love has solidified this individualized parenting notion for me. It has given me the right tools to love, teach and discipline my kids individually, so that they can not only thrive but flourish and reach their fullest potential to become happy, healthy, mature adults. And creating a better society with stronger families is our aim here at A Nation of Moms. Nothing else is matters more than what we do with our children. So speak their love language each day – before school so that they can face the day’s challenges with courage, and then again as reassurance when they return home.