Have you got any suggestions as to how I can help my child to feel more loved, and grow up happy and healthy?
Parenting is hard, and we do our best to make sure our children feel loved and have a safe and secure home that will set them up for life. The fact that you’re even reading this says to me that you deeply care about your children, and want the very best for them. Generally, all parents do - but it’s taking the time to improve our parenting skills by reading, attending seminars, talking with experts and other parents and generally resourcing ourselves.
I want to recommend a book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages of Children.” In this book, Gary outlines five different ways that we feel loved by another person. He believes that everyone benefits from all five expressions of love, but there are one or two in which we feel most loved and is most important to us. This goes for our children as well. The five he has given are as follows:
We feel most loved when someone spends quality time with us. This is giving us undivided attention to talk with us or spending time together involved in an activity of interest. For a child whose love language is “Time”, it means the world to them if we go out of our way to set aside time especially for them: making it a regular weekly special time, scheduling it in our diaries or on the family calendar etc.
Acts of Service
We feel most loved when someone does something practical for our benefit. For an adult this might me attending to some household chores so that we don’t have to, or it might mean making us dinner or even just a cup of coffee. For a child, it might be something like fixing the tyre on their bike, helping them with their homework.
We feel most loved when we experience physical touch from our loved ones. This might include massage (if appropriate), holding hands, an arm around the shoulder, having a child sit on your lap, lots of cuddles, even “rough and tumble” play. It’s easy for dads to neglect this when their son or daughter becomes a teenager because they may feel uncomfortable, but it is still extremely important to our teenagers - perhaps even more so at such an emotionally difficult time of their life.
Words of Encouragement
We feel most loved when someone praises us, giving us encouragement for how what we have achieved, what we are doing well or pointing out our attributes when we make a mistake/fail, or positive comments about who we are as a person. Both adults and children with this love language feel especially hurt when words are used to criticize or carelessly/mistakenly put them down.
We feel most loved when someone gives us a gift. This does not necessarily have to be an expensive gift. It might be something simple like a card, or a baking a cake especially for that person. It might be flowers or a thoughtful present having heard and remembered a conversation where they had expressed a desire for something.
As you can probably appreciate, each and every one of these expressions of love benefit our children. But there are one or two that speak volumes to your child about how you love them. So how do you know which love language your child most appreciates?
1. Observe how your child expresses love to you. People (both children and adults) generally give love in the way they themselves would like to receive it. Your child may well be speaking his own love language without you realizing it. Be particularly aware of those love languages that aren’t natural to you.
2. Observe how your child expresses love to others. Pay close attention to how your child interacts with the children and adults to whom your child most often shows affection.
3. Listen to what your child requests most often. Most kids are not shy about voicing their requests, preferences and desires. If you learn to “listen between the lines” to the things your child is requesting, you may hear his or her primary love language.
4. Listen to your child’s most frequent complaints. When you stop to consider their whining and grumbling, the results may surprise you. Their complaints may fall into a category corresponding with one of the love languages.
5. Give your child a choice between two options. Try introducing your child to situations where there are choices between two love languages. Pay close attention to the decisions made. The love language your child chooses most often may very well be the primary love language.
As adults, we too tend to show/express love in our own natural love language. And there are often one or two love languages that we find particularly difficult to express. It’s helpful to be aware of our child’s love language and to be intentional about expressing love in this way. It might feel foreign to us to express love in a way that we ourselves do not find especially beneficial, but we should not assume that our child naturally feels loved by us. For instance, our love language may be Acts of Service while our child’s might be Time. We might feel that because we cook, clean and care for their physical needs, our child feels loved - when in actual fact they are longing for some one-on-one time where they can talk with you for a while about what’s going on in their life - or play a game with you that they enjoy, throw a rugby ball around the yard with their dad or simply have you read a chapter each night of a book they enjoy even when they’re old enough to read it themselves.
If you would like to know more about the 5 Love Languages of Children - go to your library or see your bookstore and look for author Gary Chapman.