The need to feel loved is a primary human emotional need
Child psychologists state that children have certain basic emotional needs that must be met if they are to be emotionally stable. Among these needs are the need for love and affection, and the need to sense that they belong and are wanted. With these, children are likely to develop into responsible adults.
“Inside every child is an ‘emotional tank’ waiting to be filled with love,” says Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages of Children. Much of the misbehaviour of children is motivated by the cravings of an empty ‘love tank’. He goes on to state that, “in raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child… If you want to give and receive love most effectively, you will need to learn to speak the right language.”
What makes you and your children feel loved? Have a think about it. Does giving or receiving gifts make you feel loved, or is it a word of praise? What about a hug? Or is it when someone does an act of service for you, like carrying heavy shopping or fixing that leaky pipe?
Hugs and kisses are the most common way to speak this love language to your children. This love language is the easiest to use unconditionally as you do not need any special occasion or excuse to make physical contact. You have a constant opportunity to transfer love to the heart of that child with touch. The language of touch is not confined to a hug or a kiss either, but can include any kind of physical contact such as a gentle touch on the back or arm, a pat on the head or playing games such as football.
If your child’s primary love language is touch:
- Cuddle up on the sofa together and watch a movie
- Hug and kiss your child before they leave for school or when tucking them into bed at night
- Stroke your child’s hair or rub their back when they tell you about a difficult day or are upset
- Give each other a high five whenever you see your child doing something positive
- Read younger children stories on your lap
- When your child is sick, spend time providing comfort like wiping their face with a flannel
Words of affirmation
An ancient Hebrew proverb sums up the power of what we say, “the tongue has the power of life and death.” What we say to our children has a big effect on them, especially if their love language is words. Verbal compliments or words of appreciation are powerful communicators of love, and words can affirm your children’s self-worth.
If your children’s love language is words of affirmation:
- Put a note in their lunchbox with some encouraging words
- Tell them how much you love them, make a habit of doing this every night when you tuck them into bed
- Send them a text message telling them how much they mean to you
- Create a special name of affection for your child that is only used between you both
- Tell them when they have done well
Quality time is focused, undivided attention. This will require real sacrifice on the part of the parent as it’s easier to offer words of affirmation or physical touch. Life is busy and to spend quality time with someone, you will need to arrange your time wisely to incorporate this. Quality time does not require you to go somewhere special, and most nurturing times with children are often at home. Finding time to be with each child alone is not easy, but is essential. It is important to understand that quality time is not the event itself, but that you are doing something together, just being together, getting to know each other better. Quality time should include loving eye contact and quality conversations.
If your child’s primary love language is quality time:
- Stop what you are doing and make eye contact with your child when they come up to talk to you
- Spend a few extra minutes putting your child to bed at night. Read them some stories, talk about the day
- Spend time helping your children with their homework
- Schedule a “date-time” with each of your children individually and make it a priority
- Find silly things to laugh about together
- Take family walks together or play games together
- Surprise your child with tickets to a concert or a special place
The English word for gift comes from the Greek work charis which means grace, or an undeserved gift. The meaning behind this is that a true gift is not payment for services given, but rather an expression of love for an individual and is freely given by the giver. If you offer your child a gift if they will clean their room, this is not a true gift but a payment for services rendered, or even a bribe. This could send confusing messages to your child as they may interpret future gifts as conditionally given.
Meaningful gifts can be a powerful expression of love to those whose primary love language is gifts. However, for parents to truly speak this love language, the child will need to feel that their parent genuinely cares, so to keep the love tank full you will need to use a combination of physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time and acts of service. Giving gifts has little to do with the size or the cost of the gift but has everything to do with love. A note of caution: be careful not to shower children with gifts as substitutes for the other love languages. Sometimes parents can resort to presents rather than being truly present to their children.
If your child’s love language is gifts:
- Select presents that fit the interests of your child
- When away from home, mail a small package to your child
- Make after-school snacks memorable by serving them on a special plate
- Be on the lookout for personalized gifts that have your child’s name on them
- Hide a small gift in your child’s lunchbox
- Buy or make a piece of jewellery to wear that is just from you
Acts of service
Parenting is a service-orientated vocation. Parents may often forget that the mundane acts they perform every day are expressions of love with a long-term effect. Sometimes you may even feel like a slave! However, if you have this attitude, this will be communicated to your child in turn who will feel little love from those acts.
Gary Chapman states that, “loving service is an internally motivated desire to give one’s energy to others and is a gift, not a necessity. It is done freely not under coercion.” He goes on to say that, “the ultimate purpose for acts of service to children is to help them emerge as mature adults who are able to give love to others through acts of service.” We serve our children, but as they are ready, we teach them how to serve themselves and then others. This is a time-consuming task! Some children particularly receive love through age appropriate, additional acts of service. Acts of service can be physically and emotionally demanding, so if you are finding it difficult, take some time out to make sure you have a balance in your life and look after your own needs too.
If your child’s love language is acts of service:
- Help your child practice for their sports team.
- Sit down and help your children with their homework.
- Now and again wake up early to make them a nice breakfast.
- During a time when your children is sick, go that extra mile by setting up their favourite movie, reading then stories or buying them some of their favourite magazines to read.
- Teach your child the importance of serving others through involvement in local community groups like volunteering now and again at the local food bank.
- Help to fix their toys when they break them.
- Start a “birthday dinner” tradition where you make their favourite meal.
Discovering your primary love language and learning to speak your child’s love language will take time, but if you are patient and make the effort, it will bring a depth and closeness in your relationship with them that you never thought possible.
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