In his bestselling book The 5 Love Languages, marriage counsellor Dr Gary Chapman explains there are five ways to experience and express love. These, which he refers to as “love languages”, are quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts and physical touch.
According to Dr Chapman, you express yourself better, and are more responsive to the love language you understand. This applies to your children, too. He unpacks this in his latest book, The 5 Love Languages of Children.
Johannesburg-based parenting coach and occupational therapist Celeste Rushby agrees it’s important for parents to know what a love language is and that everyone receives and understands love in different ways.
What is your child’s love language?
Words of affirmation
Children want to be seen and heard. You’ll often hear your child say “Mommy, look at me”, and even though you know your little one is the centre of your universe, actually hearing it will let your toddler know she matters.
Celeste notes children generally thrive on being told you’re proud of them. That you’ve noticed how hard they’ve worked on a project, or you love how nicely she shared with her friend. But, for a child whose dominant love language is words of affirmation, these types of comments will make her feel especially cherished.
You can start each day by filling your toddler’s love tank with positive affirmations so she can go through the day confidently. Boosting her confidence is also a great way to help her navigate future relationships. She will not be seeking validation from the world, because her love tank will be full and she’ll know she is enough.
“Compliments like ‘I love your hair like that’ or ‘That was such a kind thing to do’, makes her feel closer to you than ever,” says Celeste. She advises catching your little one being good and telling her you’ve noticed. She will go to the ends of the Earth for you.
However, Celeste cautions that there are two sides to this coin, as your little can also be sensitive to criticism. “Your words are such powerful tools that a hurtful comment like ‘I can’t believe you did that again!’, ‘You are naughty!’ or ‘You’re so clumsy’ can cut deep. Avoid these, and stick to the silver linings.”
If your little one is experiencing change and taking it hard, it often takes kind and loving words from you to assure her you have confidence in her and trust that she can handle the change.
Acts of service
“This one doesn’t require much extra thought from parents, because we tend to do a whole lot of it for our children anyway,” says Celeste. If this is your little one’s love language, responding to her requests will make her feel appreciated. For example, when she asks you to fix her do while you’re in the middle of something, you won’t ask her to wait, bur rather respond more lovingly.
If this is your child’s love language, you’ll notice that whenever you spend time with her, she lights up. “Quality time is not about what you do together, it’s about just being together in each other’s company,” says Celeste.
It can also be explained as one-on-one, uninterrupted time with your little one. Clinical psychologist specialising in child psychology Leandri Beyer says spending quality time with your children will facilitate emotional closeness. “This will strengthen the bond you share with your child. Disciplining her will also be easier as the relationship is what maintains cooperation,” she adds.
Essentially, quality time is vital whether it’s your child’s love language or not.
“Gift giving is not about the value of the gift, but the value of the thought behind the gift. A note in your child’s lunchbox is a great example of a gift that would fill her love tank,” says Celeste.
You could also pick flowers from the garden for your little one or pack a special treat for her to take to school. “Bring home the after-dinner mint from date night, or replace your son’s broken goggles with a pair that’s his favourite colour or character,” suggests Celeste. Filling your little one’s love tank with gifts doesn’t have to be expensive.
If you notice your child being affectionate towards you, reciprocate. This is her way of asking for love and attention.
Toddlers have hard days, too, and they don’t always have the vocabulary to express their feelings. In those moments, a loving touch from you will express more to her than words ever could. This will also help her feel emotionally connected to you. If you’re not particularly comfortable with physical touch, start small. Hold her hand while you walk together, engage in physical play, and gradually progress to snuggling during story time.
Celeste cautions that if your child’s love language is physical touch and she doesn’t receive it from her parents, she may seek it elsewhere. “You can fill her tank by stroking her hair when you’re next to her, offering to tickle her back while watching TV, attacking her with giant squeezy hugs and drawing pictures on her back with your finger for her to guess what you’ve drawn.”
No matter what your little one’s love language is, learning to speak it will be like watering a plant. So shower your child with love and she will blossom.
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