February 4, 2023 — By Wendy Sachs

In February we turn to thoughts of love. So this is a great month to talk about love languages. All people have ways that they give and receive love. The way that you feel loved and appreciated is your love language.

Some kids can hear the words “I love you” thousands of times, but until they get a hug it doesn’t fill their bucket. Others may need you to help them tie their shoes, or get a small gift or even just need attention. It is all the theory of Gary Chapman, Ph.D. He shares with us that all people, including children, experience love in 5 ways, and each of us has one way that matters more than the others. We have to learn to communicate love to our kids in a way that really lets them feel loved.

So what are the 5 love languages?

Physical Touch

Do you have a kid who is constantly holding your hand, loves rough and tumble play, cuddles up, or uses you as a human climbing pole? Your child may be craving physical touch. This is the kind of child who uses secret handshakes, kissing games and will crawl up in your lap whenever possible. These kids hug even as they get older and will look for ways to continue to be physical whenever emotions run high.

Receiving Gifts

These kids are just looking for more stuff, they like the whole process of receiving anything. They look at how the package is wrapped and enjoy the rituals of any gift giving traditions. But they also get excited getting odd bit of stuff from the bottom of your purse, or an interesting stone from the garden. These kids save EVERYTHING but especially things that were given to them by someone special. They notice if a sweater is their favorite color and are very appreciative. It’s easy to feel like these kids are demanding, but it really is more about the act of giving than the actual gift. Think about artwork, stickers, or a red ripe apple saved just for them. These kids also respond well to sticker charts!

Words of Affirmation

You may have a kid who just loves to hear you say “I love you” 100 times a day. This child loves little notes and compliments. Kids who love affirmation are excited when you notice things they do well and even if they don’t hear you directly, they bloom when you indirectly praise them. Notes in the lunchbox, a parent/child journal or a special phrase you say every night before bed will fill their bucket.

Acts of Service

Kids who thrive on this love language love thoughtful gestures, helping hands and when someone does for them. They notice when you lovingly stitch together their stuffed animal or take the time to help them bake cookies for the project at school. They often want you to help them far longer than help is needed which can be tricky. It’s great to find little things you can do without being asked, like cutting up their fruit into little shapes for lunch or putting their laundry away when it is really their turn. These kiddos appreciate the work involved in the gesture and it makes them feel loved.

Quality Time

All kids appreciate quality time especially undivided attention. But some kids need it in a different way. These kids want you with no distractions or any other people. It might be for a quick chat, a long conversation or a project for just the two of you- it is the attention they crave. It doesn’t always mean you have to be having a deep conversation, these kids will happily read while you read, when you are both together alone and zeroed in on a shared task. These kids want to feel your presence, and each of you coloring your own picture or laying on the bed together before sleep in the attention they seek. Keep a book of questions or conversation starters handy and be sure to fine a few minutes of alone time with kids like this.

As you decode your child’s love language, be sure to figure out your own too so you can help your child to give you what you need to fill your bucket. It is a wonderful gift to teach a child to express love in this way. Saying “hey, it really means a lot to me when you hold my hand. I can feel your love” sets your child up to be an empathic friend and partner later in life!