Introduction: My Take on The Five Love Languages
Have you read the book The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman? We have read the book several times and find his ideas about communicating love to be very accurate. His thesis is that each person best receives love in just one of the five different ways called the five love languages. We have seen evidence of these languages in our own lives and in the lives of many friends who have read this book with us in various churches as we moved around the county. These love languages include Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Gifts. While you might best know that you are loved by the time someone spends with you (quality time), your spouse might feel most loved when you make him a fantastic dinner or put away his laundry instead of leaving it to him (acts of service).
This can be tricky since each of us has a different primary love language and we all tend to show our love using our own primary love language instead of thinking of how the other person would best understand our expression of love. With children, it is difficult to pinpoint the primary love language at first and it is therefore best to make sure you share your love with your children using all five of the love languages as much as possible. That is the premise of this post. I am going to share 50 practical, concrete ways to show your child that you love them. I will divide these ideas into the five love languages as defined by Mr. Chapman. I highly encourage you to read any one of his several books on the subject to get a more thorough picture! It is super hard work to express love to someone in purposeful concrete ways, and I started writing this list as a way to remind myself. I hope these ideas are a big help to you as you work hard every day to love your child. Here are some ways you can love your child every single day.
Love Your Child Through Quality Time
Try to spend one-on-one time with each of your children. This can be super-tricky if you have many children! We have six children, and have to get creative to get personal time with each child. Here are some of the things we do.
Take your child on a date.
This doesn’t have to be expensive, it can just be a walk in the woods or beach trail. My children look forward to our “dates” and get so excited for each other when it is someone else’s turn.
Use car time for conversation (not gaming).
I am frequently in the car one-on-one with my son as we travel to and from Tae Kwon Do practice. I recently declared that one trip each day would be for conversation only – no personal gaming allowed on his part. I asked him questions to get the ball rolling and we had a fabulous conversation that might never have occured. I have to be honest, I prefer to think as I drive. But talking with your kids is important!
Have each of your children spend one evening helping you cook.
Not only does this give you a chance to spend meaningful time with your child, it also gives you a chance to teach them a valuable life skill. I like to have one child helping me with dinner while another responsible child is playing games with the other children who are at loose ends.
Play Games Together.
We play games together as a family often, but one of my children especially enjoys a rousing game of CandyLand or GoFish with just me. We laugh and tease as we play and it just puts him in a better mood. Targeting your child’s love language is a great way to adjust their attitude before discipline becomes necessary!
Read a Book Just For Her.
It’s great to read books together as a family, and we do that too. But sometimes, I like to pick out a book I know will appeal to one child in particular and read aloud one-on-one.
Sit Together Outside and Just Talk.
If you have a porch swing or park bench, that is perfect. You might even just take a blanket out to the yard. Outside in the dark is an especially good time and place to have quiet conversations with your older children.
Enter Your Child’s World.
Climb onto the bottom bunk with a flashlight and hang a sheet to make a tent. Get under the table with the toy trucks. Build a zoo on the stair landing. Make up stories with the doll house. Put on a costume and make mud pies! Find the play your child enjoys most and just engage with them, one-one-one, for a set amount of time. This is something that does not come naturally to me and something I need to purpose to do more often.
Share a Picnic.
Fill a picnic basket with simple finger foods and take one of your children out on the back porch for a picnic. I don’t know about your kids, but mine all love to eat outside on the porch!
We don’t always have money to spend but one day we discovered that we had spent so much time emphasizing modesty and thrift that one of my children had no desire to wear nice clothing. Dressing for success is important — whether you like it or not appearance does effect your first impression of a person. So my husband and I came up with a game plan to encourage our daughter in this area. We purposed to send me window shopping with her every other month just to look at clothing, talk about what is appropriate and what is not, see if we can figure out each other’s taste, etc. The happy side effect of this “training” was that we were spending a good dose of quality time together!
Take One Child With You On Errands.
This is the most effective method for my husband who has very little free time to spend one-on-one with children after he puts in a long day at work. He almost always has one errand or another to run on the weekend, whether it is heading to Home Depot for a specific screw, or running to Staples for toner cartridge. We try to send a child along for those rides whenever we can. My kids think it is a special privilege just to ride in Daddy’s car!
Love Your Child With Words of Affirmation
Words can build up and words can tear down. How we use words with our children is so important no matter what the love language, but for children whose love language is Words of Affirmation positive language — or harsh language — can be life-changing. This is not about compliments, this is about affirmation. Here are some ways to use affirming words to communicate love with your child.
This one is almost cliche because we’ve all seen the television shows where the mom starts leaving notes all over the house and in the lunches. It’s probably cliche because it works. I hid notes in my husband’s suitcase once. He thought it was kinda funny, but he also felt loved. You can put private notes in drawers, on beds, in toiletry bags, inside pockets, on car seats, tucked in school books or reading material. You can send text messages to your child or even send a message in code.
Thank God for him in your prayers.
Specifically thank God for your child’s positive efforts in your dinner time or family prayers. Notice your son trying extra hard to control his anger? Thank God publicly. Observe a child sharing above and beyond the call of duty? Thank God publicly for his actions. See a personality trait that blesses your family (like a sense of humor or a happy helper). Give God the glory, out loud in front of your child.
I’m Proud of you for…
Reward great behavior or positive influence with your positive words. “I’m proud of your for standing up for your brother with your friends.” “I’m proud of you for noticing the recycling and taking it out without being asked.” “I’m proud of you for being such a great big sister.” Make it honest, though as kids catch on really quick if you make stuff up that they don’t really do.
Notice What She Does Right.
It is so easy to notice what each child does wrong and nitpick. I know I am guilty of that! I think it is my job to correct every little flaw; but I would get much further if I noticed the things my child does right! “Wow, you worked really hard on math this week.” “I can’t believe how much cleaner your room is today!” “Thank you for having a good attitude when you played with your little sisters tonight.”
Say it. Say I Love You out loud to each and every child.
It is amazing how hurt any child can be when you accidentally leave him out of the I Love You’s. I purpose every night to say “I Love You (name)” to each child before they go to sleep. I also try to make sure that is not the only time I say I Love You. When my son comes home from a friend’s house and comes in to the kitchen for a hug, I say I Love You. When my daughter comes downstairs to find her iPod I say I love You. I remember to say I Love You by setting up these little triggers for myself. I find things that happen every day and attach an I Love You to those events.
Spin It Positive.
One of the things that frustrates a child with Words of Affirmation as his primary love language is when you provide negative feedback. They take this so personally and often interpret it that something is wrong with them and whatever you just described makes them unloveable. You need to be so careful with words. I need to be more careful with words! You aren’t going to make it through your whole child’s life without giving directly negative feedback; but spin it positive as often as you can. Instead of saying “Hey, you misspelled five words.” Say, “Wow, you got five words right. That’s way better then last week. You must have worked really hard on those three words.” Then just matter-of-factly assign extra practice for the incorrect words and move on. Everything does not have to be negative.
Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness.
Your humble apology will go a long way towards affirming your child. An apology with a plea for forgiveness validates the importance of a person whom you have slighted in some way. You also model a very important task we each need to practice when you apologize and ask for forgiveness.
Words of forgiveness are like a breath of fresh air in a relationship. Again, you are affirming the importance of the other person in your life by indicating a desire to restore relationship when you forgive a wrong.
Tone of Voice Matters.
It doesn’t matter what positive things you have to say, if you don’t really mean it your tone of voice is not going to communicate love to your child. Conversely, an angry tone of voice will communicate a lack of love faster then lightning.
Make it Public.
When you have something good to say about one of your children, share it in front of the other members of your family. You might even go around the table and share one positive activity of each child from the day; or have each child share something positive about the sibling/parent on his right. Now you aren’t just sharing your own love with your child; you are facilitating sharing between siblings.
Love Your Child In Acts of Service
This one seems pretty straightforward. Any act you do to make life easier for your child is an act of service. Making it personal for a specific child can be tricky in our busy lives. Doing everything for your child isn’t the answer either!
Put Away His Laundry.
In our house, everyone puts away their own laundry. Except every once in a while I like to help a certain someone who struggles to get his laundry put away nicely. He appreciates it, and I appreciate seeing a closed drawer and empty laundry basket.
Do Her Chores Once in a While.
If your children have specific chores assigned, this is a great way to get in some one-on-one acts of service. I know it is hard to do someone else’s chores when you are already busy but it can really help your child feel know she is loved when she walks into the kitchen to fill the dishwasher and finds the job already done.
Make His Favorite Meal.
Everyone has a favorite meal or food at our house and I try to include those meals at least once a month for each child. Oh how excited they are to come to the dinner table and find their favorite!
Clean Up Her Mess.
When your child spills something (and she will) your normal routine will be to have her clean it up. That’s good, it teaches responsibility. Every once in a while, take the job from her and finish. You can even say something like “Here, honey let me do that for you this time since I know you’ve already had to clean up water once today.” I never, ever clean my children’s rooms. Except for once in a great while when they come in at night and discover that someone else has already done the task…
Help Personalize Her Space.
I have one child in particular who always wants my input when she cleans up her room and decides to re-arrange her knickknacks. To be honest, it drives me a little crazy and no matter how many times she calls me in there to consider this change or that I am most known for my impatience. When I have actually taken the time to help her hang her pictures, arrange her books in better order, or decide where to put her blankets and pillows, she has been so happy. Such a simple thing!
Making Real Breakfast.
I don’t actually make breakfast very often. We eat cold cereal and granola bars most of the time. I recently declared Wednesdays as Smoothie days because we have a new Vitamix and I wanted to make sure we were using it. My kids love smoothie days and are quick to remind me first thing every Wednesday morning. My husband likes to serve us all by making breakfast once on the weekend. Sometimes he makes yummy omelets and sometimes he makes French Toast and sausages. My mother-in-law makes pancakes from scratch as many times as she can when she visits. The kids eat up that extra gift! My Mom likes to make muffins for her grandkids when she visits and they all think her muffins are the best.
Fixing Clothes or Toys.
Precious toys or clothing has a special place in our child’s heart and ignoring this can be hurtful. My husband goes out of his way to fix broken toys with special meaning for our kids. They think he can fix anything! I’ll never forget the time my son let loose of his balloons outside. He was determined that if I would just get Daddy, Daddy would fix his problem! My children save their torn stuffed animals for Grandma’s next visit when she can do “surgery.”
Make Something Together.
My older children have each made a full-sized fleece blanket with me now and those blankets are so special because they represent love and working hard together. Since they took turns with me making each cut and tying each knot – they know how much hard work and time went into those blankets!
Let Him Help!
Letting your child help speaks volumes to a child about his value. Working with you gives your child a chance to say “I love you Dad” using his own primary love language and it is an act of service on your part. Let’s face it, having a three year old help mop the floor is not easy.
Building a desk yourself is way easier then teaching her to build a desk herself. Cooking a meal is way easier then teaching him to cook a meal. Reading a book out loud is way easier then listening to someone else read out loud. Children, especially older children, are going to recognize this truth and recognize your act of service as an act of love when you take the time to teach.
My husband is always sharing his food with the kids. This is something I just do not like to do. He cuts up an orange and inevitably four or five little hands are in the kitchen begging for a piece of his orange. He gets out the mustard pretzels he likes so much and somebody comes running for a pretzel or two. Sometimes he makes extra just so he can share! Not only is this an act of service, it is also modeling an important life skill.
Love Your Child Through Physical Touch
Sharing love through appropriate physical touch is fairly straightforward when your kids are little. Hugs, kisses, tickling, nose rubs, back rubs, cuddle time on your lap and ruffling hair are obvious and appropriate forms of physical touch for a four-year-old. By the time your little guy or gal is 14 you find yourself in a quandary. They go through a stage somewhere in there where hugs just aren’t wanted or seem awkward. But, if their primary love language is physical touch and you aren’t providing appropriate forms of physical touch so that they know they are loved — they might start looking for love in all the wrong places. It’s important to keep a balanced perspective on this. I try to give variations for tweens and teens in these ideas.
Cuddle When You Read Aloud.
For a teen, this can be as simple as sitting next to each other. This is like pseudo-cuddling. Your child can sit next to you and look over your shoulder during a family read aloud or movie night and be close enough to be touching shoulders or arms without the inappropriate or awkward cuddling that a five-year-old would enjoy. On the other hand, you should definitely let your little guys just climb right up onto your lap!
Your teen child might prefer The Side Hug. You hug without touching fronts. By the time they reach adulthood, normal hugs suddenly become okay again.
Pat on the back.
Giving a small child a back rub can be comforting and helpful especially as they settle down for the night. For a teen, a little slap on the back as a “good job” or “hey, I just now found you in the crowd” is a good reminder that you love them.
In our family we call rubbing noses “eskimo kisses” and blinking eyebrows on the face “butterfly kisses.” My preschool children still come running for a kiss on an ouchie, and a kiss to the cheek is still welcome. For a teen child, a kiss on the forehead or hair might be more appropriate.
A hand on the shoulder.
When I go in to see some new creation my son has come up with in MineCraft (computer game) I try to put my hand on his shoulder in a comforting or encouraging way. A hand on the shoulder or around the waist when a child talks to you reassures her that you are listening and are about what they have to say.
You know, fist to shoulder? I think this is something Dads do mostly.
A Slap on the knee.
I saw someone else’s Dad do this the other day, and spoke volumes about the relationship between father and son. Just a playful slap on the knee works.
The Side-Shoulder Bump.
Your shoulder bumps her shoulder when something in the conversation reminds you of her.
Wrestling or Rough-Housing.
Seems like between fathers and sons this is appropriate at any age!
A rousing game of basketball or touch football in the backyard. Bonus: It’s exercise!
Love Your Child with Gifts
You might think I have saved the easiest love language for last, but the truth is that this is the hardest love language to accept. We are taught in society that “things” do not or should not equal love. Nobody wants their child to have gifts as a primary love language because it just seems wrong somehow. Materialistic. But the truth is that some people really do best perceive love through the receiving of gifts. People whose love language is gifts understand that those gifts do not have to cost money. In fact, some of the best gifts are things that have been made especially for you.
This could be a hand-sewn tote bag with a name decal or a hand-carved truck with name painted on or a painted rock. Whatever you can make yourself will be cherished.
Let Your Child Keep Mementos.
A child whose love language is gifts may drive you crazy when they bring home the bird seed favor from a wedding or a special birthday napkin. Those little things are extra special!
Wrap It Pretty.
Presentation can be as important as the gift itself! My husband tells me this is especially important in certain countries he has visited, but it is also true on an individual level for your children. Make a simple gift extra special when you tie on a bow, make the wrapping paper yourself, or have it wrapped perfectly in the store. They will probably even want to save the paper!
Don’t Get Rid of It.
You might be tempted to cull through your child’s toys and send them all to Goodwill, but you need to be careful. Your five-year-old might associate your love with that tea set. Your sixteen-year-old might be hanging on to that falling-apart-toy because her Grandma got it for her the year Grandma got cancer. That little piece of wrapping paper represents love to your child!
Make her a box.
She needs a special place to keep all that little stuff in!
Gather gifts from nature.
Bring your child shells from the beach, a rock from the woods, or a flower from the path.
Frame a picture.
Take a picture of your favorite family places or something special and put it in a frame for your child.
Make a scrapbook.
Turn your precious photo memories and wrapping paper pieces into a scrapbook.
Send it through the mail!
Write a letter. Find the perfect card. Make a card. Buy a postcard. Put a stamp on it and actually mail it to your child.
Look for little things.
Keep an eye out for clearance sales, tag sale finds, and on-line deals so that you can keep a small stock of little gifts on hand. This serves two purposes. You will always have a little something to give your child when the timing is right AND your child will always be able to find something to give to that special friend when the need arises to share a little love.