The Five Love Languages of Children

Building on his successful first book, The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary Chapman, Ph.D. has also written a companion book for children, The Five Love Languages of Children.

Clarifying the primary languages in which your child hears love is a powerful and highly transformational piece of information (no less so for adults too).

I encourage parents to read both books. Here's the five languages as a quick synopsis:

  1. Physical Touch
    Sometimes unconsciously, parents have held back in their giving of physical touch because of fears about sexual abuse. Or perhaps they were starved of touch in their own childhood. For many children, touch speaks louder than words.

  2. Words of Affirmation
    Parenting can easily slip into predominantly being about prohibition. Out of concern for their well-being, we tell children what not to do. Positive words of guidance, encouragement, and affirmation go a long, long way. Reward what you do want with positive words.

  3. Quality Time
    Quality time is focused, undivided attention. No phones, PDAs, cooking, glancing at e-mail, etc. As children grow, this time requires real sacrifice from parents. Remember though, the root of the word 'sacrifice': to make sacred.

  4. Gifts
    The giving and receiving of gifts can be a powerful expression of love. However, this language works best in conjunction with the presence of the other love languages, not as a substitute. Then children can trust that parents really care.

  5. Acts of Service
    Parenting is in itself an ongoing act of service. Modeling a working balance between supportive acts of service and fostering healthy independence can be tricky. The ultimate goal is to help them mature into adults who can give love to others through acts of service—not to please, but to genuinely give, which is a beautiful experience.

One of the more difficult truths about parenting is that we all make mistakes. Hasty words, busy days with misaligned priorities, or just plain bad luck. It's not about perfection. The greatest leverage as a parent is how we choose to do the clean up.

Owning mistakes, taking responsibility, explaining to our children (not justifying our bad behavior but clarifying our humanness), and apologizing all teach children empowering, maturing, lessons about humility, intention, and real caring.

Never Just One Child

All the time a person is a child he is both a child and learning to be a parent. After he becomes a parent he becomes predom-inantly a parent reliving childhood.
Dr. Benjamin Spock
Pediatrician, Author

Dr. Spock's words are powerful indeed. I like to say that you can never have only one child, for as soon as you have your first child, you are also reintroduced to your own inner child, your own childhood experience, once again.

What do I mean by your inner child? As you raise your children, you reconnect with yourself at that age. The places in your body, mind, and feelings, where memories reside. As we spend time in the company of our own and other children, our younger selves begin to whisper to us louder and louder.

You may find yourself flashing on an image of your mother's face as she changed your diaper. Perhaps the feel of your hand in your father's as he walked you to school. Or maybe that first secret kiss behind the bleachers. These memories can be rich, intimate, and filled with tenderness. And as you reconnect with them in a more immediate way, you reconnect with yourself more deeply. You experience more of the fullness of who you are.

There may be less pleasant memories too. Perhaps the hot flush of your face when a parent shamed you, undermining your sense of self by shaming who you were rather than what you did. There may be the surge of younger anger, when you felt misunderstood, alone, frightened. There may be sadness stemming from moving house, school, or an unrequited love.

While these experiences may have been blurred or even forgotten over time, they remain in our consciousness as unfinished business. As your children move through each age stage, they are likely to trigger these thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations. Sometimes they may take you by surprise.

When you come across unfinished business, there are a number of ways to make the most of that opportunity and avoid re-enacting the behavior with your kids. Some suggestions are:

  • Talk to a friend, mentor, or therapist.
  • Write a letter to yourself at that age. Let your younger self know that you hear her/his feelings and will take good care of them.
  • Set aside time for Self-nurturing activities, especially those you enjoyed as a child: drawing, puzzles, reading, skipping rope, collecting shells, etc. Take your kids with you and share those memories.
  • Get a massage, manicure, or other body work. These are nurturing and also help to move stuck energy.
  • Place a photograph of yourself at that particular age by your bed. Spend 2-5 minutes several times a week sharing affirmative messages of love with your younger self.
  • Watch a favorite movie that you liked to watch as a child.
  • Make yourself your favorite childhood meal or relax with a cup of warm milk with honey.