Are you and your child speaking the same language? Find out.
John and Jeremy see eye to eye – John intuitively understands his son’s needs, and Jeremy is very cooperative when it comes to his chores, studying, or bed time. Grace, on the other hand, feels as though her mom Frances just doesn’t ‘get’ her at all; as a result, they argue daily over the smallest things. Frances finds it takes a monumental effort to get Grace to help out, or to even use a civilized tone of voice.
While we may nod our heads sagely, believing these children’s attitudes have everything to do with their innate personalities, experts would suggest otherwise. Increasingly, child psychologists favour examining the nature of our relationships with our children – who we are to them and with them – rather than simply seeking a method to change their behaviour.
One perspective is to consider how we communicate with our kids by asking, “Are we speaking the same language?” The book, The Five Love Languages of Children, suggests that though we may not naturally speak the same love language as our child, with a little insight and effort, it is possible to do so. In the interest of promoting harmonious parent-child communication in our households, it may be worth a try.
Looking for love
Humans are essentially emotional beings. Almost any reaction (or response) we have is to some extent determined by how we feel about a particular situation – what we favour or dislike. It’s hard not to be attracted to someone who genuinely likes you. That feeling we get – of being appreciated, valued or seen for who we really are – is the greatest motivating factor there is for human action. Our emotional system is like a battery: it provides the energy we need to fulfill tasks (complete chores or do homework) and behave well towards others (be patient or helpful), but it needs charging. When a child’s emotional battery is drained, they may be literally unable to act agreeably.
Most parents love their children unconditionally, even in those moments when we do not appreciate their attitude or behaviour. Yet many children do not feel loved by us because they are not able to receive it in the way we express it. Sometimes our children are filled with gratitude and affection; other times they seem utterly indifferent or worse, scornful. Because children are emotionally immature, they cannot yet love unconditionally. (Any elementary school playground scene will confirm the fickle nature of a young child’s affections as she jockeys for position within a group or vacillates between kindness and cruelty to a friend.)
As adults, it is our responsibility not only to feel love for them – which we tend to do naturally – but to express it clearly, in a way that they can readily understand. If your child regularly acts out inappropriately or is consistently resistant to input or guidance, it may be a sign that he is not ‘feeling the love’.
The languages of love
Everything revolves around the love relationship between you and your child. While some bonds seem natural and easy, others are a constant struggle. To even achieve simple civility at home can be hard work – it’s enough to drive us to despair. Yet, when children feel loved, they do their best. So, how do we ensure our children get the message that they are loved?
We all have different communication styles, and consequently we appear to give and receive love differently. Generally speaking, there are five main ways we can express love – these are our ‘love languages’. Though we give love in all of these five ways, each of us tends to have a primary approach, or a love language we favour. That primary love language is the one we use to give love most often, and how we tend to receive love most effectively. These five languages are:
♥ Words of affirmation: This includes plenty of praise, unsolicited compliments and regularly saying, “I love you”. Acknowledging your child’s effort with words is key, while verbal insults are not easily forgotten.
♥ Spending quality time: Offer your full, undivided attention; really being there – with the TV or computer off and all other tasks on standby – is most important. Distractions, cancelled dates, or not listening attentively when your child wants to share can be devastating.
♥ Giving/receiving gifts: A more concrete form of appreciation, gift giving and receiving contains messages of thoughtfulness; it is a gesture of caring and consideration. The focus is on the quality or significance of the gesture, no matter how small. A missed birthday or hasty, thoughtless gift would be especially hurtful.
♥ Acts of service: Providing meals, acting as chauffeur, or helping your child with a project will let him know how special he is to you, while piling on the chores and responsibilities will be met with resentment.
♥ Physical touch: Hugs, holding hands, thoughtful touches on the arm or face, and even play-wrestling can all show care and concern. Your physical presence is crucial, while neglect can be unforgivable.
What happens when your love language is totally different from your child’s? A significant communication gap opens up. While you are doing all you can to show your child love in your own particular way, he may not be able to recognize it as love at all. The solution is to be a love language detective: discover your child’s primary language and learn ways to effectively convey unconditional feelings of respect, affection, and commitment to him. When your genuine feelings resonate with your child’s innate language, his emotional battery is charged, and his behavior is sure to change for the better.
As with all detective work, observation is your best tool:
♥ Watch your child – the likelihood is that she’s ‘speaking her own language’ (giving love in the way she best receives it). Our youngest daughter discovers the world through physical touch; she is very cuddly, seeking a hug of reassurance whenever she is stressed, hurt or confused.
♥ Monitor how your child expresses caring to others. Making and giving crafts for special events, or bringing presents to classmates indicates a propensity for speaking in the language of material gifts.
♥ Listen to what your child requests most often. Regularly asking questions like, “How do you like my drawing?” or “Did I do well at practice today?”, suggests her love language is words of affirmation.
♥ Notice what your child generally complains about. If he says, “We never do stuff together” or “Why don’t you play with me?”, he needs quality time with you.
♥ Offer choices over time – lead your child to make a choice between two love languages. For example, dad might say, “I have some free time Saturday. Would you like me to fix your bike (act of service), or would you rather go to the park to play catch(quality time)?”
These are all great ways to gather clues about the way in which your child most often expresses and requests affection. You may even wish to keep a record of her choices over a few weeks if you are finding it particularly difficult to figure it out. Keep in mind that we all give and receive love in all five languages, though some perhaps not as effectively as others.
Ideally, we want our children to grow up with the capacity to express their feelings in a variety of ways in order to become well-rounded emotional beings. Wrapping much of our parental guidance, discipline and requests in our child’s primary love language – offering praise prior to correction, a reprimand in conjunction with a soft touch, or a commitment to play together after chores are done – will go a long way to achieving that pleasant home-life we all desire. Though it may seem mysterious how some parents simply get along with their children without any effort at all, the magic is all in speaking the same language.