Have you ever handed your teenager a gift that you spent hours choosing, only for them to thank you but not seem to particularly give it much more thought? Or do you give your child a huge a bear hug every day when you collect them from school only for them to wriggle away with a frown?
It can be pretty confusing when your children don’t respond to your loving gestures in the way that you expect. And if you have more than one child, you may sometimes notice that what means a lot to one has little impact on another. So what’s going on?
It could be that they have different ‘love languages’.
The concept of love languages was introduced by Dr Gary Chapman and the idea is that children (and adults) express and receive love in five different ways. We all realise that every child is different and that what works with one may not work with another, but perhaps what is not so obvious is that what communicates love to one child may not be received in the same way by another. Chapman says that all of us will have a primary love language – the way that communicates love best to us.
The five love languages
- Affirming words: words of affection and endearment, praise and encouragement.
- Acts of service: services for your child that they see as valuable.
- Quality time: focussed, undivided attention, being together.
- Gifts: giving and receiving of undeserved gifts.
- Physical touch: hugs, cuddles, kisses and pats on the back.
Working out your child’s love language will depend partly on their age. Babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers don’t yet have a primary love language and need to be shown love in lots of different ways, frequently and directly.
If your child is aged five to eight, a bit of detective work will be required to work out their love language as they won’t yet be able to verbalise what it is. Spend a week of the holidays trying out all the love languages and see what gets the best reaction. Or ask them how they could tell that a parent loves their child (a prompt like discussing a family in a TV programme or book could be useful for this). Their response might give you a clue as to what they think love ‘looks’ like.
For children aged nine to twelve, again try out different love languages and then play the ‘Love Languages Mystery Game’ with them. This is a multiple choice quiz to discover what makes them feel most loved.
With teenagers, chatting about their love language could be a great way to connect together. Email them the ‘Discover Your Love Language’ quiz, then also complete it yourself. Chat afterwards about whether you came to the same conclusions. You could also spend time thinking about how your teenager normally lets you know that they love you. Perhaps they readily offer hugs, buy really thoughtful gifts, or take out the bins without being asked. They are most likely to express love in the way they like to receive it.
While one way might be particularly meaningful … it’s still important to show them love in all five ways.
Once you think you’ve figured out what your child’s love language is, focus on showing your love for them in that way during the rest of the holiday.
Some ideas to get you started:
- Compliment and praise them for specific things – “Your hair really looks nice today!”, “You did really well at that!”
- Put encouraging notes for them to find around the house.
- Say positive things about them to others and let them overhear.
- Send notes, emails or texts each day if you are away.
- Talk together one-to-one.
- Give them your undivided attention – bedtime stories games together, kicking a ball in the garden
- Go on a ‘date’ together, for example a walk, shopping, a trip to the cinema, or a visit to a coffee shop.
- Do chores together.
- Leave an unexpected treat in their bag or under their pillow.
- Give them a small gift after a particularly challenging time.
- Mail them small gifts when you are away.
- Make sure you express your love verbally or in writing with the gift.
Acts of service
- Mend a broken toy, gadget or piece of clothing.
- Take their turn on the washing up rota and tell them that you love them.
- Support them in a hobby or skill.
- Make a favourite meal as a surprise.
- Give them frequent hugs, kisses and pats on the back.
- Cuddle up under a blanket to watch TV.
- Roll around wildly together over a sea of cushions.
- Tickle them or have ‘tickling fights’.
As you focus in on your child’s love language, you will hopefully find that they really respond as they feel especially loved. But remember that while one way might be particularly meaningful for them, it’s still important to show them our love in all five ways.