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How to speak your child’s love language

Do your children know you love them? I certainly hope my three children do. For starters, I want them to know today how blessed I feel to have them in my life, but I also don’t want them to be in a counselor’s office 20 years from now talking about how they never knew if their parents loved them.

As a counselor myself, I’ve certainly heard my share of those stories. Parents may have thought they were loving their children in a way that their kids felt it, but their children didn’t necessarily grow up feeling loved.

You may have the same or different reasons, but I’m betting you’re a lot like me—you want to be sure your children know just how much you love them.

My friend, mentor and co-author Dr. Gary Chapman is known worldwide for his five love languages concept. In fact, you’ve probably heard of his NY Times best-selling book by the same name. This concept has changed millions of relationships for the better because it equips people with an easily-understood, practically-applied way of expressing love in a way that your loved ones feel it best.

But it’s not just for your partners. It’s also what you and I are looking for as parents—we want to make sure we’re speaking our children’s love language.

So, what are the five love languages and how do they pertain to our little ones?

  • Words of affirmation: kind, supportive words that reassure your child that you believe in and value them
  • Physical touch: Hugs, kisses, high-fives and any other positive, loving touch that creates a sense of safety and belonging
  • Gifts: From small to large, any thoughtful token of your love that let’s your child know “Mom is thinking about me. I’m important to her.”
  • Quality time: Time spent enjoying each other’s company, doing things your child likes to do, as distraction-free as possible
  • Acts of service: Willingly and freely helping your child with tasks they need or want help with, such that they feel like “I’m not alone. I can count on my mom.”

Easy enough, right? This concept is super practical. Children start out as infants needing love through all five love languages. By about the time they’re five or six years old, their primary, or preferred love language becomes more evident.

But, how can parents understand their child’s primary love language? Fortunately, there are a few ways.

If your child responds more positively when you speak one love language more so than the others, then chances are, that’s your child’s love language. They’ll also tend to express their love for you through their preferred love language so that’s another tip-off. Just by way of observation, you can easily figure out what your kids respond best to.

Depending on the age of your children, you can also simply ask them. While writing this article, I asked my children,“How do you know mama and daddy love you?”

Four-year-old Presley said, “You hug me and give me goodnight kisses.” Her answer suggests hers may be the love language of physical touch.

Six-year-old Carson said, “You give me milk and buy me toys.” He’s both an acts of service and gifts kid.

Twelve-year-old Avery said, “You hug me and play video games with me.” Like Carson, Avery’s a bilingual kid with two love languages—physical touch and quality time.

Whew! Fortunately, all three seem to confidently know we love them. That’s good! But, I can’t stop there and neither can you. Just like yours and my love tank regularly needs to be re-filled with love, so do our children’s.

So, what do we do to ensure our children’s love tanks are full? We prioritize love as a high value in our lives, make time for these most important relationships, and intentionally speak our children’s love language.

Without these essential steps, parents can easily fall into a false sense of security thinking our children “just know” we love them. Children won’t necessarily just know, especially if we’re inconsistently or rarely speaking their love language.

Learning to speak your child’s love language may be easier if you and they share the same love language. So add that to your to-do list—learning your own love language, which you can do by taking a free test online here.

If you don’t share the same love language, then you’ll learn and get better the more thought and practice you give to learning an additional love language. The more love languages the better. You’ll always most naturally speak your own primary love language, but because you’re committed to loving your family, you’ll grow more fluent in their love languages with time and practice.

To help you in your love language studies, you may want to read The Five Love Languages of Children, which is all about learning to connect with our children in creative and developmentally appropriate ways through their love language. There’s also A Perfect Pet for Peyton, which is a great children’s book designed to get our children thinking about and having fun with the five love languages.

Dr. Shannon Warden is an assistant teaching professor at Wake Forest University where she teaches in the graduate counseling program. As a professional counselor, Shannon has counseled children, families, young adults, women, and couples since 1998 and has served as an assistant to Dr. Gary Chapman since 2003. She co-authored Things I Wish I’d Known Before We Became Parents., full of insights and stories to help and encourage parents-to-be and parents with children ages birth through elementary age.

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