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The language of love

Understanding how your child asks for love

Abby Cameron

For 16-year-old Lily Reid, changing her family’s Christmas traditions gave her the chance to truly express how she feels love.

Her mother Maureen recalls a discussion with Lily and husband Doug about whether it was time to change things up, with just the three of them at home for the holidays.

“We debated going away, but decided to stay put,” Maureen says. “If it’s just the three of us, then what does our ideal Christmas day look like? And for Lily, it was, ‘I want us all to stay in our pyjamas all day, I want us to put a fire on in the fire place, I want us to all watch Christmas movies together and I want us to have a nice meal’.”

This wish shows that one of Lily’s primary love language is quality time. After attending an event last year with Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, her mother said she got the affirmation that they were on the right track with their love.

Chapman breaks down the concept of love language, revelling in its quaint simplicity. “The basic idea is what makes one person feel loved doesn’t make another person feel loved,” he said. “And, by nature, we express our love in a way that’s meaningful to us and it’s not necessarily the same as another person.”

The five love languages include: receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch.

All five languages are important, however everybody has a predominant one that they identify with the most. Chapman says if you pay attention to yours, their primary language will show itself. “I think you can determine a child’s primary love language by the time they are four-years-old. The primary one really means learning their behaviour, and how they respond to other people.” That behaviour can be as unique as the individual child, but it always boils down to the same five languages.

Chapman and his wife have two adult children. While they were growing up, the siblings showed drastically different love languages. “My son’s love language is physical touch, when he was [younger], I would come home from work, he would run to the door, grab my leg and climb up on me,” Chapman says. “He’s touching me because he wants to be touched.”

His daughter’s language was different. “Our daughter at that age never did that,” he says. “She would say, ‘daddy, come to my room I want to show you something.’ She wanted quality time.”

Do you notice your child wanting more hugs? Physical touch is likely their primary language. Are they asking for your help? Acts of service make the most sense.

Behaviour isn’t the only clue. Pay attention to what your child says. “Two other ways you can determine [their love language] is what they request of you most often, for example, a child asking, ‘momma can we play?’ ‘Can we play now momma?’ ‘Can you come and play with me mommy?’ They’re asking you for quality time,” says Chapman.

Complaints are also revelatory. “A six-year-old might say to his mother, ‘we don’t ever go to the park anymore since the baby came.’ Before the baby, he got quality time with his mother, he got to go to the park and play with her,” he explains. “Now he’s complaining that doesn’t happen. If you go on a business trip and you come home and the child says, ‘you didn’t bring me a surprise?’ They’re telling you that gifts are their language.”

Paying attention is key. “If you can put these things together you can pretty much figure out a love language,” Chapman says.

For Maureen, it was a confidence boost that her outpouring of love was in the right place with Lily. “For us, I think [attending the seminar] didn’t really change what we were doing, but it reaffirmed that what we were doing met her needs,” Maureen says. “And it also kind of de-emphasized the words of affirmation and physical touch. She hugs us good night every night but she’s not a touchy-feely kid. She likes some personal space. I would have been more inclined to do more gushing with words of affirmation, but…she doesn’t really need it. When it’s appropriate I definitely do, but I don’t make a big daily practice of it.”

While a primary love language will present itself for your child, Chapman stresses the importance of showing all five languages. “Those early years give all five, once you do discover their primary, and you give heavy doses of that, you still sneak the other four,” he says. “But, if you give heavy doses of all five, your child will feel loved, because you’re always hitting their primary.”

For many parents, these are new concepts. “Most of us did not receive all five growing up,” Chapman says. “We came to adulthood and some of these are not natural for us.”

Young men often learn that showering people in his life with gifts is what’s important. “As they grew up, they were taught to speak that specific language,” Chapman says. “So when you grow up with the idea that gifts equals love, he then buys gifts for his wife, but that’s not what he wants. He’s doing that because that’s what he was taught to do.”

A family plays a board game imageChapman’s top advice for parents is to learn their own love language. “If both mom and dad are open to the concept, and they can see how important it is to their marriage, then they’re going to see how important it is to their children,” he explains.

His advice would be to read the book for couples first, take the quiz to discover each other’s love language, and try speaking it to just see what happens. “I think they’ll see an improvement of the emotional climate in their marriage,” he says, “so when you bring up the concept of children having different love languages, they’ll be highly motivated to make sure their child gets the right language.”

This process will set you in the right direction to maximize the love of your child. “The question is not do you love your children,” he says. “The question is: do your children feel loved? Parents are sincere in their love for their child, but there’s some children that aren’t going to feel loved because they aren’t receiving love in their own love language.”

Maureen agrees that starting personally was a key factor in understanding the languages of everyone in her family. Her primary love language is acts of service. She recalls telling her husband approvingly about a husband she saw on TV who makes coffee for his wife every morning. “Now when he’s home he does that for me every morning,” she said. “It’s fun when you can get some clarity on what you appreciate the most.”

Learn more about love languages, including a quiz to help you identify your own love language, at 5lovelanguages.com.

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