What Language Do You Speak?

This feature article was first written in June 2013 for Essential Parenting, an online parenting magazine by the Ministry of Social and Family Development. It has been reproduced here following the closure of the magazine.
Holidays: Spending quality time with the family.
It was a hard lesson to get through. Tim was complaining about each task that I had set for him to do, and as his teacher, I was getting increasingly frustrated. Tim finally shared that he was upset because his father hardly spent any time with him. “All he does is work, work, work…”, he said resignedly. I asked if he had shared his feelings with his parents. He said he had, but nothing had changed.

“How about the time he cooked a special meal for your birthday?” I recalled. “I’m sure your father loves you. It’s just that he has a lot of work to do.”

“Yeah… well, maybe,” he replied. “But no matter what, it’s not the same. My brother and I still need that special time alone with him, and I’m pretty sure it’s never going to happen.”

As parents, we all have our own unique ways of giving and receiving love. However, if our primary love language differs from that of our children, they may not actually sense our love for them.

It was clear from what Tim was able to express so clearly, that his primary love language is quality time, and he did not feel his father really loved him because this need had not been met. His father clearly loved him, but chose to express this in his own primary language, acts of service.

You may truly love your child, but unless [he] feels it – unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love – she will not feel loved.

- "The 5 Love Languages of Children" by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell

Love is the foundation for everything else in life. Once children feel loved, they will be able to learn, grow and thrive emotionally, mentally, and physically in a secure and nurturing environment. Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, in their book “The 5 Love Languages of Children”, show us how to make our children feel loved in a way they understand.

The 5 Love Languages

1. Physical Touch

This is the easiest love language to use as we need no special occasion to give our children a hug or kiss. However, for some who are more on the reserved side, it may be the hardest. We can start from something as simple as a pat on the shoulder or having our child sit on our lap while reading a book. For boys, it could mean a high five or rough play, or even through playing contact sports like basketball. Teenage girls still need appropriate physical touch from their fathers, as this contributes to a healthy self-esteem.  Try giving your child a massage, or snuggle on the couch while watching their favourite programme.
Physical Touch: the comfort of a snuggle and a hug.
2. Words of Affirmation

All children need words of affection and praise from their parents. Our words have the power to hurt, but also to heal. We can help our children develop in the areas of language and even social skills by giving specific and appropriate comments, such as “I like how you shared your toys with Lisa just now.” Catch your children doing something good and commend them for it. Offer words of affirmation and not words of condemnation and criticism. If you feel uncomfortable saying it, write them a note or send them a text message!

3. Quality Time

This is one of the hardest for us as busy parents to show. Many children crave their parents’ focused and undivided attention and may even resort to negative behaviour in order to get it. When we set aside personal time for each of our children, no matter how short, we are saying: “You are important. I like being with you.” This could just mean a few moments of loving eye contact and sharing your thoughts and feelings. Be creative! Set a specific “date” with each of your children, camp out in the living room, or look through photos on your computer together. Car rides and meal times are great bonding times too.

4. Gifts

The most meaningful gifts can become symbols of love. However, a child must feel that his parents genuinely care, and gifts should come with no strings attached. Our children must know that we gave the gift out of love, not out of guilt or bribery. Gifts do not need to be expensive. They could be your child’s favourite snack or something that suits his interest, like an interesting rock you picked up on the way home. Make the giving special – wrap it up or make it a surprise. What matters most is that the gift reminds them that they are thought of and loved.

5. Acts of Service

It is always in a parent’s heart to want to serve our children. Our primary motivation should not be to please them, but to do what is best. We can use our acts of service to show our children how to be responsible themselves. By watching us make their beds, our hope is that our children will eventually be able to do so themselves. When we are tired, our acts of service can become resentful. We need to take care of ourselves and serve our spouses too, in order to serve our children effectively. In serving them and others who are in need, it is our hope that our children will in turn learn to serve others. You might consider hosting guests in your home, or engaging in voluntary work as a family. You can start small by helping your child fix a broken toy, or surprising him with breakfast.
Acts of Service: Carrying them and caring for them even when you're tired.
As our children grow into teenagers, it is all the more important at this stage of identity formation that they are secure in our love for them. It could mean even something small, like making a simple sandwich for your daughter when she comes home from a tiring day at school. While it may seem as though our teens are unappreciative of these gestures, the reality is that they still need to know at this stage that they are loved, though they may not show it. Remain consistent to love your teen in simple and practical ways, and you will realise further down the road that she actually appreciated it.

Lastly, it is important to note that while we should continue to show our older children love in their primary love language, we should speak in the rest of the languages as well. When they are young adults, they will hopefully begin to speak all these languages on their own, developing into mature adults who are capable of giving and receiving love to those around them.

What languages are you, your spouse and children speaking to each other? You can go to http://www.5lovelanguages.com/profile/ to find out. Try speaking to your loved ones in the language they understand best, and see them respond in new and positive ways.

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