Authors: Gary Chapman, Ph.D. and Ross Campbell, M.D.
Publisher: Northfield Publishing
Release Date: June 1997
Gary Chapman is the author of the best-selling Five Love Languages Series and the director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants, Inc. Gary travels the world presenting seminars, and his radio program airs on more than 100 stations. For more information visit: www.garychapman.org.
Ross Campbell is the author of How to Really Love Your Child, which has sold over one million copies. An associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry, Ross conducts seminars on parent-child relationships worldwide.
Love Is the Foundation
In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. Nothing works well if a child’s love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best. You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it—unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love—she will not feel loved.
If children feel genuinely loved by their parents, they will be more responsive to parental guidance in all areas of their lives. We have written this book to help you give your children a greater experience of the love you have for them. This will happen as you speak the love languages they understand and can respond to.
For a child to feel love, we must learn to speak her unique love language. Every child has a special way of perceiving love. There are basically five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. If you have several children in your family, chances are they speak different languages, for just as children often have different personalities, they may hear in different love languages.
Your children can receive love in all of the languages. Still, most children have a primary love language, one that speaks to them more loudly than the others. When you want to effectively meet your children’s need for love, it is crucial to discover their primary love language.
Love Language #1: Physical Touch
Physical touch is the easiest love language to use unconditionally, because parents need no special occasion or excuse to make physical contact. They have almost constant opportunity to transfer love to the heart of a child with touch. Even when they are busy, parents can often gently touch a child on the back, arm, or shoulder.
For children who understand this love language, physical touch will communicate love more deeply than will the words “I love you,” or giving a present, fixing a bicycle, or spending time with them. Of course, they receive love in all the languages, but for them the one with the clearest and loudest voice is physical touch. Without hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and other physical expressions of love, their love tanks will remain less than full.
If your child’s love language is physical touch . . .
- Hug and kiss your child every day when they leave and return from school, as well as when you tuck them in at night for younger children.
- Stroke your child’s hair or rub their back when they tell you about a difficult day or are upset.
- Snuggle closely together on the couch when watching television together.
- Play games or sports together that require physical touch.
- With younger children, read stories together with your child on your lap.
Love Language #2: Words of Affirmation
In communicating love, words are powerful. Words of affection and endearment, words of praise and encouragement, words that give positive guidance all say, “I care about you.” Even though such words are quickly said, they are not soon forgotten. A child reaps the benefits of affirming words for a lifetime.
- Words of Affection and Endearment. The words “I love you” take on greater meaning when the child can associate them with your affectionate feelings, and often this means physical closeness. For instance, when you are reading to a child at bedtime, holding your little one close, at a point in the story where the child’s feelings are warm and loving, you can softly say, “I love you, Honey.”
- Words of Praise. Praise, as we are using it here, is for something over which the child has a degree of control. Children know when praise is given for justified reasons and when it is given simply to make them feel good, and they may interpret the latter as insincere.
- Words of Encouragement. We are seeking to give children the courage to attempt more. Learning to walk, to talk, or to ride a bicycle requires constant courage. By our words, we either encourage or discourage the child’s efforts.
- Words of Guidance. Parents who offer words of loving guidance will be looking closely at the interests and abilities of their children and giving positive verbal reinforcement of those interests. From academic pursuits to simple rules of etiquette to the complex art of personal relationships, parents need to be expressing emotional love in the positive verbal guidance they give their children.
For children whose primary love language is words of affirmation, nothing is more important to their sense of being loved than to hear parents and other adults verbally affirm them. But the reverse is also true—words of condemnation will hurt them very deeply. Harsh and critical words are detrimental to all children, but to those whose primary language is words of affirmation, such negative words are devastating. And they can play those words in their minds for many years.
Thus, it is essential for parents and other significant adults in the child’s life to quickly apologize for negative, critical, or harsh remarks. While the words can’t be erased by an apology, their effect can be minimized.
If your child’s love language is words of affirmation . . .
- Put a Post-it note in their lunchbox with some encouraging words.
- Make a habit of mentioning something specific you’ve observed that highlights your child’s accomplishments.
- Ask what your child wants to do or be when the grow up. Then encourage them in ways that help them pursue these dreams.
- Create a special name of affection for your child that is only used between the two of you.
- When your child is feeling down, share five reasons why you are proud of them.
- Leave a note on a cereal box, bathroom mirror, or other place you know your child will look.
Love Language #3: Quality Time
Quality time is focused attention. It means giving a child your undivided attention.
It conveys this message: “You are important. I like being with you.” It makes the child feel that he is the most important person in the world to the parent. He feels truly loved because he has his parent all to himself.
- Being Together. The most important factor in quality time is not the event itself but that you are doing something together, being together. If you have several children, you need to look for times when you can be alone with each one.
- Sharing Thoughts and Feelings. Quality time is not only for doing active things together, it’s also for knowing your child better. As you spend time with your children, you will find that a natural result often is good conversation about everything related to your lives.
If quality time is your child’s primary love language, you can be sure of this: Without a sufficient supply of quality time and focused attention, your child will experience a gnawing uneasiness that his parents do not really love him.
If your child’s love language is quality time . . .
- Cook something together for a snack, such as cookies or brownies.
- Schedule a specific “date time” with each of your children individually.
- Spend a few extra minutes putting your child to bed at night.
Love Language #4: Gifts
The giving and receiving of gifts can be a powerful expression of love, at the time they are given and often extending into later years. Yet for parents to truly speak love language number four—gifts—the child must feel that his parents genuinely care. For this reason, the other love languages must be given along with a gift.
It’s often tempting to shower children with gifts as substitutes for the other love languages. For some who grew up in dysfunctional families, a gift seems easier to give than emotional involvement. Others may not have the time, patience, or knowledge to know how to give their children what they genuinely need. As a substitute for their personal involvement with their children, many parents go overboard in buying gifts.
And remember, not all gifts come from a store. Wildflowers, unusual stones, even driftwood can qualify as gifts when wrapped or presented in a creative manner.
It doesn’t matter to them if the gift was made, found, or purchased; whether it was something they had desired or not. What matters is that you thought about them.
If your child’s love language is gifts . . .
- Be on the lookout for personalized gifts with your child’s name on them.
- Give your child a “song,” either one you make up or a special song you select that reminds you of them.
- Hide a small gift in your child’s lunchbox.
Love Language #5: Acts of Service
Loving service is an internally motivated desire to give one’s energy to others. Loving service is a gift, not a necessity, and is done freely, not under coercion.
Because service is so daily, even the best parents need to stop for an attitude check now and then, to be sure that their acts of service are communicating love.
Acts of service that are genuine expressions of love will communicate on an emotional level to most children. However, if service is your child’s primary love language, your acts of service will communicate most deeply that you love Johnny or Julie. When that child asks you to fix a bicycle or mend a doll’s dress, he or she does not merely want to get a task done; your child is crying for emotional love.
If your child’s primary love language is acts of service, this does not mean that you must jump at every request. It does mean that you should be extremely sensitive to those requests and recognize that your response will either help fill the child’s love tank or else puncture the tank. Each request calls for a thoughtful, loving response.
If your child’s love language is acts of service . . .
- Sit down and help your child as they work on homework.
- Make a favorite snack when you son or daughter is having a difficult day.
- Connect your child with one of your friends or family members who can help them in an area of interest such as dance lessons, soccer, piano playing, or scouting.
How to Discover Your Child’s Primary Love Language
Discovering your child’s love language is a process; it takes time, especially when your child is young. Young children are just beginning to learn how to receive and express love in the various languages. This means that they will experiment with actions and responses that are satisfying to them. That they engage in a particular response for a period of time does not mean that this is their primary love language. In a few months, they may specialize in another one.
As you begin to look for a child’s primary love language, it is better not to discuss your search with your children, and especially with teenagers. If they see that the concept of love languages is important to you, they may well use it to manipulate you to satisfy their momentary desires. The desires they express may have little to do with their deep emotional needs.
You can employ the following methods as you seek to discover your child’s primary love language:
- Observe How Your Child Expresses Love to You. Watch your child; he may well be speaking his own love language. This is particularly true of a young child, who is very likely to express love to you in the language he desires most to receive.
- Observe How Your Child Expresses Love to Others. If your first-grader always wants to take a present to his teacher, this may indicate that his primary love language is receiving gifts. A child whose language is gifts receives tremendous pleasure from getting presents and wants others to enjoy this same pleasure.
- Listen to What Your Child Requests Most Often. If your child often asks you to play games with her take a walk together, or sit and read a story to her, she is requesting quality time. Of course, all children need attention, but for one who receives love most deeply this way, the requests for time together will greatly outnumber all the others.
- Notice What Your Child Most Frequently Complains About. This approach is related to the third, but, instead of directly asking for something, this time your child is complaining that he is not receiving something from you. Every child complains now and then, and many of these complaints are related to immediate desires and are not necessarily and indication of a love language. But if the complaints fall into a pattern so that more than half the complaints focus on one love language, then they are highly indicative.
- Give Your Child a Choice Between Two Options. Lead your child to make choices between two love languages. A mother might say to her daughter, “I have some free time this evening. We could take a walk together or I could hem your new skirt. Which would you prefer?” This obvious choice is between quality time and an act of service. As you give options for several weeks, keep a record of your child’s choices. If most of them tend to cluster around one of the five love languages, you have likely discovered which one makes your child feel most loved.
Whatever your child’s love language may be, remember that it’s important to speak all five languages. It is easy to make the mistake of using one love language to the exclusion of the others. This is especially true of gifts, because they seem to take less of our time and energy.
Discipline and the Love Languages
A child who misbehaves has a need. To overlook the need behind the misbehavior can prevent us from doing the right thing. Asking ourselves, “What can I do to correct my child’s behavior?” often leads to thoughtless punishment. Asking, “What does my child need?” lets us proceed with confidence that we will handle the situation well.
When your child misbehaves and you have asked yourself, “What does my child need?” the next question should be, “Does this child need her love tank filled?” It is so much easier to discipline a child if she feels genuinely loved, particularly if the cause of the misbehavior is an empty love tank. At such a time, you need to keep the love languages in mind, especially physical touch and quality time, and the use of eye contact.
When a child obviously misbehaves, what he has done should not be condoned. However, if we deal with it wrongly—either too harshly or too permissively—we will have further problems with that child, and those problems will worsen as he grow older. Yes, we need to discipline (train) a child toward good behavior, but the first step in that process is not punishment.
When we realize that they are really plead ing for us to spend time with them, to hold them, to give ourselves to them in a personal manner, we will remember that they are children and that we have the precious responsibility to fill their love tanks first, and then train them to move on in their journey.
Because discipline is most effective when it happens in the context of love, it is wise to give a child a conscious expression of love both before and after administering punishment. We have noted that the most effective way to communicate love is by using the child’s primary love language, so speak it even when you must correct or punish.
In most cases, do not use a form of discipline that is directly related to your child’s primary love language. Respect the child’s love language by not selecting it as a method of discipline. Such discipline will not have the desired effect and may actually cause extreme emotional pain. The message your child will receive is not one of loving correction but one of painful rejection.
For example, if your child’s love language is words of affirmation and you use condemning words as a form of discipline, your word will communicate not only that you are displeased with a certain behavior, but also that you do not love your child. Critical words can be painful to any child, but to this child, they will be emotionally devastating.
If your daughter’s primary love language is quality time, you don’t want to discipline her with isolation, such as sending her to her room each time she misbehaves. If it’s physical touch, don’t discipline by withholding your hugs.
As parents, we must constantly be reminded that the purpose of discipline is to correct the wrong behavior and to help a child develop self-discipline. If we do not apply the love language concept, we may well destroy a child’s sense of being loved, in our efforts to correct bad behavior understanding the primary love language of your child can make your discipline far more effective.
Learning and the Love Languages
In the early years, when you probably don’t know your child’s primary love language, you regularly give all five. In so doing, you are not only meeting your child’s emotional need for love but are also providing him with the physical and intellectual stimuli needed to develop his emerging interests.
Parents who do not take time to speak the five love languages, but simply seek to meet a child’s need for food and clothing, shelter and safety, provide an unstimulating environment for intellectual and social development. A child who is starved for love and acceptance from his parents will have little motivation to accept the challenges of learning in the early years or later in school.
Your children will reach their highest motivation and success in learning at school when they are secure in your love. If you understand your children’s primary love language, you can enhance their daily experiences by speaking their primary language as they leave for school in the morning and as they return in the afternoon. Those are the two important times in the lives of school-age children. To be touched emotionally by their parents on leaving and returning home gives them security and courage to face the challenges of the day.
Perhaps you cannot be home when your children return after school. If so, the next best thing is to show a sincere expression of love when you walk in the door. If your last encounter in the morning and your first encounter in the evening is to speak the primary love language of your children, you will be performing one of your most meaningful deeds of the day.
Anger and Love
Unless we as parents know what anger is and how we can handle it in appropriate ways, we will not be able to teach our children what to do when they feel angry.
Passive-aggressive behavior is an expression of anger that gets back at a person or group indirectly, or “passively.” It is a subconscious determination to do exactly opposite of what an authority figure wants.
Until the age of six or seven you are working primarily to keep passive-aggressive behavior from taking root in your child. The first and most important way you do this is to keep his emotional love tank full of unconditional love. Speak your child’s love language clearly and regularly and you will fill that tank and prevent passive-aggressive behavior from taking root.
Next, realize that your children have no defense against parental anger. When you dump your anger on your child, it goes right down inside the child. If you do this often enough, this bottled anger will probably come out as passive-aggressive behavior. Listen to her calmly, let her express her anger verbally.
Allowing a child to express anger verbally may seem permissive. It really is not. You can’t train them to express their anger in mature ways simply by getting upset at them and forcing them to stop venting their anger. If you do, their anger will be over-suppressed and passive-aggressive behavior will be the result.
If you want to train your children to manage anger in a mature fashion, you must allow them to express it verbally, as unpleasant as that may be. Remember, all anger must come out either verbally or behaviorally. If you don’t allow it to come out verbally, passive-aggressive behavior will follow.
It would seem that the ideal reader for this book is a couple just starting a family or who have very young children. We know, however, that some of our readers have older children in the home or even adult children. You may be thinking, If only I had read this book earlier . . . it’s sort of late now. Many parents look back at the way they raised their family and realize that they didn’t do a very good job of meeting their children’s emotional needs. And now, those children may be grown and have families of their own.
Even though you have learned a lot since those years, you may have concluded, “What happened, happened, and there’s not much we can do about it now.” We would like to suggest another possibility, “What might be is still ahead.” The opportunities are still there. The wonderful thing about human relationships is that they are not static. The potential for making them better is always present.
Maybe it is time to admit to your children what you have already admitted to yourself —that you did not do a very good job of communicating love on an emotional level.
Even if you were not the parent you wish you had been, you can begin now to love your children in ways that will make them feel truly valued. And as they have children, you will know that you are influencing another generation of your family, those little ones who now will have a better chance at receiving unconditional love all their days.
With full love tanks, your grandchildren will be more receptive and active intellectually, socially, spiritually, and relationally than they would be without this. When children feel genuinely loved, their whole world looks brighter. Their inner spirit is more secure and they are far more likely to reach their potential for good in the world.
From The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman, Ph.D. and Ross Campbell, M.D. Copyright © 1997, 2005 by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. Summarized by permission of the publisher, Northfield Publishing. 224 pages.$14.99. ISBN-10: 1881273652; ISBN-13: 978-1881273653.
Summary Copyright © 2009 by FamilyIntel, LLC. All rights reserved.