Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Title: 5 Love Languages for Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively
Author: Gary Chapman, PhD, and Ross Campbell, MD
Publisher: Northfield Publishing: Chicago, IL, 2016
What is a love language? And why is it important? According to authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, a love language is the way a person best understands and receives love from others. When you regularly “speak” your child’s preferred love language, you fill his emotional tank to the brim with good lovin’. Daily doses lead to confidence, security, and joy, and embolden your child to reach his potential. Conversely, an empty tank often leads your child to misbehave as an attempt to get his emotional needs met. It can feel awkward to use your child’s main love language if it’s different than your own, so the authors give plenty of examples of how to do this. The languages include:
1. Physical touch: hugs, kisses, playful wrestling, holding hands, high fives, pats on the back, running your hand through your child’s hair. Boys need touch as much as girls, even as they get older, and even if they seem to rebuff it.
2. Words of affirmation: encouraging words that praise your child’s effort. Write notes to your child, sharing why you’re proud of her, and leave them around the house for her to find. Speak well of your child to others while she is present. Caution: Such words shouldn’t have a criticism or a caveat attached (“I love you, but I wish you would…” “You’re tall; you should play basketball.”).
3. Quality time: focused, undivided attention. Involves eye contact, one-on-one time, uninterrupted conversations. Examples are sharing family dinners, going on regular dates with your child, playing a sport or game together (rather than being a bystander while your child plays), sharing jokes, taking walks, reading together, gardening, making crafts together.
4. Gifts: symbols of love given unconditionally with no strings attached. Kids whose primary love language is gifts delight in the present’s packaging, find a special place to keep the gift, and show it off to friends and family members. Caution: If a parent doesn’t regularly practice the other love languages with her child, her youngster may view a gift as a means of manipulation (“If you do X, I’ll give you Y”). Gifts don’t have to be expensive and can include snacks, small toys, a special rock or flower, stickers, gum, any specially wrapped trinket with meaning attached to it.
5. Acts of service: loving service done freely in the spirit of doing what’s best for another person, without resentment. Examples include helping with homework, assisting with chores when the child actually needs help, helping practice a sport, making a special meal, fixing a toy. Caution: If acts of service aren’t done in conjunction with the other love languages, a child could get stuck in the selfish, immature habit of expecting others to do things for him.
A child’s primary love language can change, especially during adolescence, so it takes time to discern. Try different approaches to discover a pattern. Pay attention to how your child expresses love to others. Observe what your child most requests and most complains about. Give your child options, like going to a park (quality time) or getting help studying (act of service). The book includes a list of such choices that are age appropriate, from 6 years old through the teens.
It’s important to note there’s a difference between conditional love and unconditional love. Chapman and Campbell point out that conditional love “is based on performance.” If you only act lovingly toward your child when he does what you want, he won’t really feel loved. He’ll feel insecure, anxious, and withdrawn; struggle in relationships; and lack maturity.
Unconditional love, on the other hand, “accepts and confirms a child for who he is, not for what he does,” the authors state. It “shows love to a child no matter what…True unconditional love will never spoil a child because it is impossible for parents to give too much of it.” This doesn’t mean you won’t run into problems. That’s part of life. It does mean your child will have solid foundation from which to mature on the path to success.
The book also covers the difference between discipline and punishment; speaking love languages in single-parent families; and speaking love languages in marriage.
About the Authors
Gary Chapman is a well-known author, counselor, and director of Marriage and Family Life Consultants Inc. His radio program airs on 400+ stations. Ross Campbell, also a best-selling author and has been a clinical psychiatrist for 30+ years, focusing on parent-child relationships.