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February 7, 2022

How to Speak Your Child’s Love Language

Post By:
Dr. Brandy Pidermann, LCSW-QS
In-House Contributor
Licensed Psychotherapist | Clinical Social Worker
Changing Tides Therapy
Guest Contributor:

Dr. Gary Chapman, the famed author of the 5 Love Languages, originally identified words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, physical touch, and receiving gifts as languages for couples to express their commitment to one another. Over time as these love languages became more popular, they were seen as a universal way to strengthen connection for greater joy and harmony across all interpersonal relationships, making this a great tool to use with your child. The 5 Love Languages can help enhance your communication and bond through daily interactions speaking in your child’s love language. 

If you’re anything like me, these love languages have become a staple in your life. I remember when I first discovered them, I immediately asked my husband and friends to take the quiz and find out their love language. I started to compile a list of ways I could engage in activities related to their love language to help connect with them more. I did discover however, that sometimes your receiving love language is not always the same as your giving love language, something to keep in mind. Once I knew how to apply these love languages in my various relationships, I noticed a more authentic connection with increased mindfulness and joy happening all around. I felt like I knew how to support my family and friends better as well. My love language is quality time so every weekend my husband makes an effort to go run errands with me because he knows how much I enjoy spending the time with him and in turn I make every effort to compliment him and use encouraging statements because his love language is words of affirmation. 

When it comes to your child this can look similar in terms of how you want to engage their love language. Whether it’s seeing their face light up after you give them a compliment, hearing them say, “best day ever” after an outing, sharing a thoughtful gift, cuddling up for a movie, or asking how you can help them, every child has a love language that makes them feel appreciated. Dr. Chapman noted, “In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and the child...if you want to give and receive love most effectively you will need to learn to speak the right language.” 

The sacred and reverent relationship every parent wants with their child can be enhanced by understanding and bringing into play your child’s love language through simple daily acts. Ever wonder what your child’s love language is and how to use it to connect with them better?  Let’s explore how!

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What are the 5 love languages? 

Words of Affirmation - words of encouragement or appreciation, listening actively, empathizing. An example would be sending an unexpected message or card expressing appreciation for a task or gesture or maybe sharing words of encouragement to the person.

Quality Time - uninterrupted one-on-one time together, focused conversation, time is important. An example would be planning a day or weekend together, creating special moments together, engaging in small activities or tasks with the person, or spending time with them.

Acts of Service - partnering with them, saying, “I will help you…”, using action phrases to show you will do something for them to alleviate the workload. An example would be making them breakfast in bed or going out of your way to do something nice for them or doing chores around the house with them.

Physical Touch - non-verbal body language, hugs, expressions of love or appreciation through welcomed physical touch. An example would be hugs, kisses, holding hands, or cuddling.

Receiving Gifts - tangible symbols that show thoughtfulness and effort to the person, intentionally sharing something or gesturing to show you care about them. An example would be gifting something they recently lost or needed remembering the importance to them, making small things important through a grand gesture or surprising them with a small token of love and support.

You can take the 5 love languages quiz with your child here. I also recommend you take the quiz for yourself and share the results with your child so that they can familiarize themselves with how to speak your love language too. This is a great tool in helping them practice different ways of communicating and connecting with family members. You can also figure out what your child values through questions and reflection particularly when they have gone through a challenging stage or mood. Asking questions around what would’ve comforted them in that moment or what could 've been done differently to have helped them during a specific struggle are excellent ways to explore their love language.

How do I apply them with my child?

Words of Affirmation

What you say and tell your child matters and has an impact on them albeit big or small. If your child’s love language is words of affirmation, using language will be the most powerful tool to connect with them. Here are a few examples:

  • Give verbal compliments on their efforts (“You did such a great job on this assignment!” or “You can see how much effort you put into this, it’s very impressive!” or “I appreciate how hard you worked on this”).
  • Leave a note or send a message encouraging them (“I love you and hope you have a great day!” or “You’ve got this!”).
  • Create a daily habit of saying I love you at least once during the day with zero expectation or conditions (in other words no “I love you but…”).
  • Create an affectionate name you use with just them. 
  • Tell them how proud you are of them…especially on days when they made an effort even if it didn’t go as planned.
  • Talk about them positively to other people around.
  • Use daily affirmations (my personal favorite by author Glennon Doyle “I can do hard things!”).
Quality Time

Giving your undivided attention to anything can be hard, particularly as a parent, but if your child’s love language is quality time this will require real effort, intention, and dedication on your part. It may mean sacrificing your favorite show or a work event but the payoff can be more rewarding than you’ll ever imagine. When your child has an opportunity to spend quality uninterrupted time with you it makes them feel important. Getting to know your child by doing something special just the two of you can leave a lasting imprint on their hearts and mind. Here are a few examples:

  • Develop a bedtime routine with your child where you read to them or share stories about the day…no phones allowed.
  • When your child approaches you with something, stop what you’re doing to give them your full undivided attention. This means direct eye contact and active listening. If you're not able to focus on them or pay attention in that moment then tell them when you are available and make sure to stick to it…consistency matters. 
  • Spend one-on-one time together. Plan a day date with them where just the two of you do a special activity (bonus points for engaging in an activity they are interested in so they can share their world with you).
  • Take a class together! (i.e., cooking, crafting, pottery, etc.)
  • Go on daily evening walks together or host weekly family game nights. 
  • Have a picnic together or lunch/dinner date. 
  • Create a jar filled with new adventures to try or fun hobbies you both like and once a week have them pick an activity from the jar to do with you (i.e., movies, scrapbooking, garage sale shopping, scavenger hunt, a community service act, check out a museum, learn a new dance move, etc.).
Acts of Service

If your child’s love language is acts of service these can double as fun teachable moments. Everyday acts you do as a parent can be seen as daily expressions of love even when it may feel monotonous. By engaging in acts of service for your child you are teaching them to service themselves and others which encourages good character traits like humility. Here are a few examples:

  • Do a chore or two with your child like helping them clean their room or do the laundry together.
  • Help with homework or school projects (if they decline let them know you will be around if they need you).
  • Make breakfast in bed for your child every once in a while.
  • Wash the car together or fill up their gas tank.
  • Ask how you can help them today.
  • Make them their favorite meal or dessert.
  • Pick up a book or magazine or record for them.
  • Replace something broken or lost they liked.

Physical Touch

Welcomed and age-appropriate physical touch is a common way to express love to a child. While kisses and hugs are often the go-to’s there are many other ways you can engage in physical touch if this is your child’s love language. Here are a few examples:

  • Cuddling up on the couch together to watch a show or movie.
  • Rubbing their back when they have had a long or challenging day.
  • Sit close to them and put your arms around them to provide comfort.
  • High-five or have a special handshake between the two of you.
  • Kiss their forehead when saying goodnight.
  • Brush or play with their hair to help relax them when they feel stressed.
  • Link arms or hold hands when walking around if they feel comfortable.
  • Animated storytelling using appropriate physical gestures while reading a children's book during bedtime routine for younger children.

Receiving Gifts

Another common way to express love to your child is through meaningful gift giving. Receiving gifts outside of special occasions (and in conjunction with another love language) are a great way to show your appreciation to your child specifically when the gift is genuine and without strings attached. This is not a substitute for being present for your child or to be used as a bribe or guilt trip. Dr. Chapman points out the importance of ensuring that, “the child’s emotional love tank needs to be kept filled in order for the gift to express heartfelt love.” If your child’s love language is receiving gifts then this is another opportunity for expression of love through a tangible object that shows them you are thinking of them and care deeply for them even when you are apart. Here are a few examples:

  • Pick up their favorite snack when grocery shopping. 
  • Buy them flowers or a card with a hand written note.
  • Grab a new game you think they would be interested in and play it with them.
  • Pack a treat in their lunch that made you think of them with a note sharing the thought.
  • Share an object (maybe an old toy) with a specific memory of your child or an item from your childhood that you want to recreate a new memory using it with them.
  • Make a homemade gift that reminds you of them and share it with your child.
  • Surprise them with an event like a birthday party or festive celebration.

Discovering and using your child’s love language to foster a deeper connection is one of the most powerful ways you can help increase their self-esteem and awareness. When a child feels loved, it helps provide a greater sense of security and emotional stability. It allows them to lean into their intuition knowing they will be loved and accepted for what they value and who they are. It validates their feelings and their presence not to mention helps with their social-emotional development and building peer relationships. As a parent this also creates a better form of assurance and comfort knowing you can identify what your child may need at that time to feel loved, supported, and everything in between. It’s like having the most valuable tool in your arsenal for when you see them hurting and you want to help. When you know your child’s love language, parenting feels easier and you can gain closeness you never thought possible.

Be well.