If I were to ask you to define love, what would you say? The dictionary defines love as a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection for another. I think however, that love is much more than simply an attachment or a deep affection. Scripture tells us the following about love:
“Love is patient; love is kind. Love isn’t envious, doesn’t boast, brag, or strut about. There’s no arrogance in love; it’s never rude, crude, or indecent—it’s not self-absorbed. Love isn’t easily upset. Love doesn’t tally wrongs or celebrate injustice; but truth—yes, truth—is love’s delight! Love puts up with anything and everything that comes along; it trusts, hopes, and endures no matter what.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (VOICE)
Love is an action. Love is a way of life. Love is unconditional with no strings attached. Love is the most important thing our kids need from us, and is at the forefront of mothering with purpose. Love accepts and affirms our kids for who they are, not what they do. It’s love that will bring out the best in them, and it’s love that will help them grow into the people who God created them to be.
In their book, The 5 Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, say, “In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. Nothing works well if a child’s love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best.You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it – unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love – she will not feel loved.”
Love language. Every person has one. It’s the way in which we understand and perceive love. As a parent, it’s important to identify your child’s love language and communicate your love for him in a way that he understands. By speaking in your child’s love language, you fill up his “emotional tank” with love. As your child moves through challenges in life, it is this tank filled with love, that will help him to persevere.
Now it’s important to note a few things. First, it’s important that the love we speak to our child is unconditional. Unconditional love accepts and affirms a child for who he is not what he does. Unconditional love is not based on performance. Secondly, it is difficult to identify a child’s love language much before the age of five. It is important to speak in all of the languages until the language that speaks most directly to the heart of your child is made clear. And even when it is made clear, it is still beneficial for your child to see love expressed in the other languages. Some kids respond well to more than one language, and as they grow up, they will learn to love people well by the example you set.
And, lastly, speaking in your child’s love language is not a guarantee that you will not face trials or challenges as you raise him. There will be hard days. But those hard days your child experiences will be filtered through the deep down knowing that he is loved.
The first of the five love languages is physical touch. Physical touch is the easiest language to use, and for some children, it communicates love more deeply than words. Physical touch is defined as any physical contact used to communicate love.
You can express love through physical touch in many ways. For your infant, holding, cuddling, kissing, feeding, and rocking are all ways to communicate love through physical touch. Your toddler will feel loved through hugs and kisses, wrestling on the floor, or reading a story as you hold him on your lap. As your child enters school, there is still a strong need for physical touch. This need can be met through a touch on the head, a pat on the shoulder, sitting closely together on the couch or through playing physical games with one another. As your child moves through adolescence, physical touch continues to be a strong need. However, it is important to respect the timing and space for this communication to occur. Children at this age are filled with emotions, thoughts, and desires and are in the process of discovering their identity. In addition, peers are becoming more important and the opinions of those peers matter a great deal. Your child likely does not want you to hug and kiss him in front of others. At home however, your child may welcome a hug, a neck massage after studying for hours on end, or a back scratch. Look for ways that you can love your child through physical touch, but be sensitive to the timing and the place.
The next love language is words of affirmation. Words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and words that give positive guidance are all powerful when we are communicating love to our kids.
When speaking words of affirmation over your child, it is important to remember a few things. First, choose your words carefully. Angry words are damaging for any child, but more so for a child whose love language is words of affirmation. Remember that your words are extremely powerful and have the ability to build your child up or tear him down. Proverbs tells us,
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.”
Proverbs 15:4 (MSG)
Use care in the words you speak. Once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back.
Secondly, take care not to overpraise your child. Two things can happen when a child receives too much praise. First, if our kids are used to hearing praise from us all of the time, it becomes less meaningful to them. Secondly, our children may become accustomed to praise and expect it from everyone. When it is not given, a child my become anxious and feel that there may be something wrong with him. Give praise when it is due, but use caution about overusing it.
Words of affirmation can be expressed in several ways. With infants, it’s important to remember that they cannot understand spoken words. They can however, understand the look on your face and the affectionate sounds you make. Hold your baby physically close and speak lovingly to them.
With toddlers, it’s important to remember that they think very concretely at this age. Love is a very abstract concept. Hold your child physically close to you as you speak to them. Children will begin to associate the loving feeling of being with you to the words you are saying.
For school age children and those moving through adolescence, words of affirmation are extremely important. Encouraging words and notes can go a long way in helping a child feel loved. Praise your child for his accomplishments and be very specific with that praise. Rather than saying, “Good job” say, “I appreciate how thoroughly you dusted the living room today” or “I loved how you were encouraging your teammates out on the court”. Give encourage and specific praise to communicate your love to your child.
Our next love language is quality time. This love language is communicated by the giving of our focused, undivided attention to our child. It’s giving the gift of our presence and assuring our kids that they are important and that we enjoy spending time with them. Quality time is what many kids crave and most of the misbehavior we see from them is simply their way of expressing that they need our presence. They need our focused and undivided attention.
Now, quality time can be difficult to give, especially as a child grows older and life gets busier. Many of us struggle with accomplishing the tasks we need to in a given day let alone taking extra time to spend with our kids. However, for the child whose love language is quality time, taking that time is so important. A child who needs this time and does not receive it, can quickly begin to doubt that he is loved.
For your child who needs this time, start by giving your child time first. Spend time with your child first, then move on to the task at hand. This might mean that you set a timer for ten minutes and play a game. Once the timer goes off, you return to the work you were doing. Your child gets some of your time and you still have time to work. You could also try including your child in your work. For example, if you are washing dishes, maybe your child could help dry and put them away. It may take longer to complete the task, but that time with your child will be worth your investment.
When spending quality time together, just focus on being together. That is what your child desires most. Going somewhere special or spending money is not required when spending quality time together. Making eye contact, talking together, and giving your undivided attention is what matters most.
To spend quality time with your baby, hold him, cuddle him, and play with him. For your toddler, play together. Join him on the playground, get down and help him build the sandcastle, build a blanket fort and read a book together under it. For your school aged child, play together, throw a football back and forth, do nails together, or plan date nights that give your child some one-on-one time. For your adolescent, setting aside time to talk one-on-one is really important. Those times that are set aside for the two of you can not only help you to understand your child better, but also give you an opportunity to discuss some deeper issues that would not otherwise come up in conversation. I’ve had many deep and important conversations with my oldest in the times we’ve spent with just the two of us. Giving our kids quality time is so important.
Gifts is another love language. This love is communicated through the giving and receiving of gifts. A true gift for a child is just that. It’s a gift. It’s freely given as an expression of love, not payment for services rendered. Giving your child a gift as a reward for cleaning his room is not a true gift. It’s payment for cleaning his room. A child with this primary love language feels love upon receiving a gift and will make a huge deal about receiving the gift. The gift will be placed in a special place, and every time he sees the gift (even if a number of years have passed) he will feel loved.
For this love language to be effective, however, the gift must be given while communicating in another love language. Give words of affirmation or a hug with the gift. Give the gift as you spend quality time together. A child whose love language is gifts needs not just the physical gift. They need to feel the love behind the gift.
It’s important to note that gifts should not be used as a substitute for your presence. Our kids need our presence in their lives. It’s also important to remember not to over give. Just as we talked about with praise, if we overwhelm our child with gifts, the gifts may very well lose their specialness. Choose gifts carefully, size or cost doesn’t matter. What matters is the love behind it.
This language is easier to express as your child gets older. The love language of gifts can be expressed through a special treats given when you are out running errands or traveling. It could be snack served on a special plate or eating by candlelight. Love can be expressed through a special box or drawer for their treasures or by making up a song just for your child. You can wrap up new shoes and present them at dinner or bring your child something home from a trip. Remember that it isn’t necessarily the gift that matters most. What matters most is the love behind it.
Our last love language is acts of service. This is a language as moms that we speak every day. This love is communicated by doing things for your child.
There are two important things to note about acts of service for this language to be effective. First, doing what is best for your child, not what pleases him, should be your primary motivation. Acts of service can be both physically and emotionally demanding. It can be easy to run ourselves ragged trying to please everyone, especially our children. Identify what is best for your family and focus your efforts there.
Secondly, it’s important that that your acts of service are age appropriate. What do I mean by that? Only do things for your child that he is unable to do for himself. For example, your infant is unable to feed himself. You must feed him. Your toddler is unable to do his laundry by himself. You must wash his clothes for him. Love is expressed to your children when you do those things for them that they are unable to do for themselves.
Love is also expressed however, when you DON’T do things for your children that they are quite capable of doing themselves. For example, my twelve year old is completely capable of doing his own laundry. My nine year old can certainly unload the dishwasher. As your child gets older, it is important to give him additional responsibilities. This not only encourages independence, but teaches your child the value of hard work and responsibility.
How do we express love through our acts of service? For your infant, anything you do to care for him is an act of service. Feeding, changing diapers, and dressing him each day are all examples of act of service. The many things you do for your infant you will also do for your toddler. Dress him or help him pick out appropriate clothing. Feed him, wash his clothes, and take him to preschool. These are all examples of acts of service. For older children, it’s important to continue to meet their basic needs. But, it is also important at this age to begin giving them age appropriate chores. This not only fosters their independence, but teaches responsibility. It also shows trust on your part. Sometimes as moms, it can be hard for us to let go of some of our household responsibilities and put them in the hands of our children. They likely won’t load the dishwasher like you do, and it may take them forever to wash that sink full of dishes. But, it is so important that you place some trust in them and hand over some of those responsibilities.
Now, there will be times that you do things for your kids that you know they can do on their own. For example, one day, we had stripped the sheets off of the beds so I could wash them. Later that evening, I went upstairs and made my oldest son’s bed. Can he make his own bed? Yes, but, I knew he was going to be getting home late that night. I made his bed out of love. There have been times that I’ve packed my kids’s backpacks on extremely chaotic mornings. Can my kids pack their own bags? Yes, they can, but I did it out of love for them. These acts of service were done purely out of love and was my way of loving my kids well in that moment. Though we don’t want to baby our kids, and they need to be held responsible in some areas, there are times when they need us to extend grace. They need us to love them well in the moment.
How do we know which love language speaks directly to the heart of our child? First, observe how your child expresses love to others. Children will express love in the way that they would most like to receive it. For example: my youngest is always encouraging those around him and loves to give hugs. The love languages that speak to his heart are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch.
Secondly, listen to what your child requests most often. If you hear, “Look at me”, that translates into “Spend time with me.” If your child asks, “Is this coloring ok”, that translates into “I need words of affirmation.” Listen to what your child is telling you.
Lastly, pay attention to what your child complains about most frequently. Frequency is the key here. If your child frequently says, “You’re always busy”, that child is likely trying to ask you to spend some quality time with him. If your child begs to be held, he needs some physical touch. Take notice of the complaints of your child. He simply could be asking for your love.
Take a moment and watch the following video.https://skitguys.com/videos/a-very-special-mommy.
Did you notice the many different ways these kids felt loved? Learning to speak in the love languages that touch the hearts of those we love is so important. I encourage you to use them all not only to love your people well, but to show them what it looks like to love others.
Campbell, Ross and Gary Chapman. The 5 Love Languages of Children. Northfield. 2012.
“A Very Special Mommy”. Skit Guys. https://skitguys.com/videos/a-very-special-mommy. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.
“Most Important Work”. Joyfully Thriving. https://www.joyfullythriving.com/most-important-work. Accessed 21 Nov. 2019.