When it comes to snacks, each of my children has a different preference. While none of them would turn down any offer of a brownie, chips, ice cream or strawberries, if they were given a choice among the snacks, all four of them would choose something different. Jacob, the oldest, leans toward chocolate and sweets, while ten-year-old Liam goes for the salt and crunch. T, our foster daughter, would choose ice cream over anything, and I have repeatedly seen five-year-old Jamie turn down cookies and cake in favor of fruit.
The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell (Northfield Publishing, 1997) is built around the premise that every person has a primary “language” which they use to both express their love, and through which they best receive love. Just as each of my children enjoys all snacks but has a favorite leaning, the authors assert that everyone needs healthy doses of all five of the love languages, but that we feel most fulfilled when someone is “speaking” to us in our language. We each have a “love tank” that is best filled when someone speaks our primary or secondary language.
While the words “skillful lover,” can hardly be uttered without a wink and a nudge, we as parents need to become skilled at loving our children. Knowing the best way to fill their tank can be an important first step. Here are the five love languages:
Physical touch: These are the huggers. They want to sit on your lap and cuddle on the couch. Jamie’s primary love language is physical touch. Yesterday, while Bill was reading the paper at the breakfast table, she curled up in his lap, pressing her head in the space between his chin and chest. She sat there, not moving, for about 10 minutes, and then ran off, happily, to play. “It’s like charging a phone,” Bill said when she left.
Quality time: Kids whose love language is quality time feel loved when they are getting you all to themselves for awhile. Jacob, 13, has quality time as his primary love language. Jacob’s tank is filled when Bill or I spend a half hour with him alone. It doesn’t matter what we’re doing together—I have had Jacob thank me profusely for taking him to buy index cards—he so enjoyed just running the errand together. It’s fortunate that he is allowed to stay up an hour later than his siblings—he uses the time to pepper us with questions or tell us stories about his day. This is also Bill’s primary love language. Every time we are able to leave the kids and go for a quick run together or out for a bite to eat, all is right with the world.
Gifts: Six-year-old Teenasia has been back with our family for about 10 months now. This is her third round with us as a foster child, as the court keeps sending her back to her biological family. At first, it was hard to figure out what T’s love language was, because it seemed like she needed all five of them constantly. I remember telling Bill in the early days of her time with us that it felt like she was a vacuum, sucking out my very soul—so needy. While this is still somewhat true, I can also now notice that she is extremely appreciative of small gifts. People whose primary language is gifts feel that a thoughtfully-chosen gift indicates that someone was thinking of them even when they weren’t there. They don’t need diamonds and baubles, but they want a physical object to remind them that they were on your mind. Jamie’s birthday this past August was one of Teenasia's most difficult days with us. I think it was because all those gifts for Jamie and just one token present for Teenasia made her wonder about our love for her. I gave Teenasia a fortune cookie yesterday that I had leftover in my purse. You would have thought it was a certificate for a new bike.
Acts of Service: This is my mom’s primary love language. She is constantly doing things for other people. When she babysits, it’s not enough to simply watch the kids. Often I come home and the laundry has been done and the family room is uncharacteristically clean. People whose primary love language is acts of service feel most loved when someone thinks to do something for them. My good friend Amy, a mother of three, also has this as her primary love language. She says it can be a difficult language for a mom to have because while she can express her love to her family very easily through service, sometimes the family doesn’t reciprocate quite enough. While they may thank her or speak appreciatively, it’s not until they actually do something (like remember to put their socks away) that her tank is filled.
Words of affirmation: “Fantastic job cleaning your room,” goes a long way for kids with this love language. They lap up compliments and never tire of hearing you tell stories of their successes to grandparents and friends. The more specific and genuine the words of affirmation are, the better. This is both Liam’s and mine. We spend a lot of time complimenting each other. Liam’s secondary love language is “acts of service,” so on Wednesdays, when I make him a hot breakfast, he is so full of words of affirmation for me he can hardly chew his waffles.