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Haven't we all left a copy of The Five Love Languages on our partner's side of the bed at some point? (Or maybe that's just me.) According to the book's author, Gary Chapman, the five love languages are:

  • Physical affection
  • Acts of service
  • Words of praise
  • Quality time
  • Receiving gifts

While you might hope to come home to flowers after an argument, your partner might prefer you volunteer to do the dishes to show you care. According to Chapman, the key to a healthy relationship is for each person to express love in their partner's preferred love language, instead of their own.

Chapman says this concept applies to children, too. According to child therapist Megan Cronin Larson, a child's primary love language typically emerges around age three or four. While you can respond to cues from your child to figure out what his or her love language is, in The 5 Love Languages of Children, Chapman encourages parents to use all five love languages with their children, in order to lay a healthy foundation for future relationships.

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Physical affection

Research shows that touch is vital to healthy neurodevelopment in infants. But the need for touch—whether a hug or a fist bump—doesn't end with infancy. Physical affection lets kids know you care, and that you will listen when they're ready to talk. But what if your child's love language is touch and you're not a big hugger?

Licensed psychotherapist and play therapist Brenna Hicks recommends parents “keep the physical touch small but consistent. [It] can be as simple as placing your hand on a child's shoulder as you pass by, rubbing their head a few times on the couch, or giving them a quick kiss on the forehead. It isn't necessarily long bear hugs."

You could…

  1. Let him sit in your lap while you read to him (or have him read to you).
  2. Give a back rub
  3. Put the couch cushions on the floor and have a WWF-style wrestling match
  4. Wash her hair
  5. Hold hands
  6. Invite her to snuggle while watching a movie

Acts of service

As parents, our lives are a never-ending blur of acts of service. How can we possibly do more? And why should we? There is a difference between responding to rapid-fire requests for snacks and help with school projects versus setting your phone aside, making eye contact, and offering to help, or taking time do something extra-special for your kid.

You could…

  1. Offer to fix a broken toy
  2. Bring your child breakfast in bed (note: plan to change the sheets after breakfast)
  3. Cook his favorite meal
  4. Cut their sandwiches into fun shapes (Kitchen scissors or a cookie cutter make it easier.)
  5. Give a manicure

Words of affirmation

Research shows we aren't actually helping when we tell our kids they're great at everything. That doesn't mean we shouldn't use praise to connect with them in a meaningful way; rather, we should be deliberate about what we say. Parents should strive to acknowledge the effort, not the outcome. For example, instead of saying “Nice job!" when your kid comes down the slide, you could say, “I noticed how hard you worked to get up the ladder."

You could…

  1. Acknowledge how hard she's working on something specific (e.g. “You're putting so much effort into practicing your cartwheels/ math problems/ being kind to your little sister.")
  2. Say “I love you."
  3. Tell her three things you admire about her
  4. Ask if he knows how lucky you feel that you get to be his parent
  5. “Catch her" being good. (e.g. “I really appreciate you doing your chores without being asked." or “You were an awesome listener at the park.")

Quality time

Experts agree, play is the optimum way to engage in quality time with young children. Says Hicks, kids “use play as their language and toys as their words. By playing with them, you learn more about them and meet their need for someone to share in their experience."

By adolescence, kids are no longer interested in playing. They are often busy with school, friends, and activities. Says Jen Harrison, mom of busy twin teens, she tries to focus completely on them in the rare moments they are together—and that this often happens in the car, which she describes as, “our best quality time."

You could…

  1. Play hide and seek
  2. Engage in pretend play
  3. Go to the library
  4. Enjoy the outdoors together; walk, hike, or go for a bike ride.
  5. Bake together. Younger children can be responsible for helping you pour ingredients into the mixing bowl with hand over hand supervision. They can also “help" by stirring a small amount of water and flour in a bowl.
  6. Have a dance party. For older kids, draw the shades first.


Receiving Gifts

As with the other love languages, the importance of the gift is not the gift itself, but the intention behind it. As Hicks explains, “You can feel very confident that a gift need not cost money or be extravagant for your child to appreciate the extension of love."

You could…

  1. Surprise her with a homemade card
  2. Inscribe your old copy of a book you enjoyed at his age and give it to him.
  3. Find an accessory or a piece of clothing you no longer wear and give it to your kids as a dress-up item.
  4. Draw him a picture
  5. Build something for her if you're handy (or brave).

No matter what love language you “speak" with your kid, Cronin Larson reminds us that our full presence is the greatest gift we can give our kids. So… put your phone down and connect with your kid, on Valentine's Day, and every day.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.

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The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.



As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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