Learn Your Child's Love Language

Popular author and family therapist Dr. Gary Chapman talks about how his book can help you better understand – and demonstrate – love to your children

As the mother of 10 kids, it can be challenging for me to personally connect with each of my children. But Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages of Children, has helped. Chapman urges parents to not only love their kids, but to go a step further and make sure each child truly feels loved. If you don’t get your kids, discovering their love language will help you figure them out.    


Memphis Parent: Talk about the five love languages of children and why these are important to parents.

Gary Chapman: The love languages are: words of affirmation, physical touch, acts of service, gifts, and quality time. They are important because each is a way of ensuring that kids don’t just hear that you love them, they know it.


How did the love languages concept come about?

As a couples counselor for 15 years, I realized I was repeatedly hearing the same issues. One partner would complain, “My spouse doesn’t love me,” and the other would say, “I don’t know what else to do.”   

When I studied my notes, I asked myself, what does that spouse want? The issues they were having fell into five categories and these became the five love languages. I found it extremely helpful in my marriage counseling, on which I based my original book, The Five Love Languages for Couples

I had a chapter about how this applied to children, and couples began to ask for more information. Since my area of expertise is marriage, not children, I teamed up with my co-author, Ross Campbell, and this book was the result.


How early can you tell what your child’s love language is? 

I think by the age of 3 or 4. With my own children, for example, when I came home from work, my son at age 3 would run to the door, grab my leg, hug and kiss me. Physical touch is his love language. My daughter, however, would beg me to come into her room to show me something, so time is what she wanted. If you pay attention to how your kids most want to interact with you, you can spot their love language early.   


You use the term “love tank.” What is this? 

It’s a visual image, like the gas tank in a car. We all have an emotional love tank. If the tank is full, the child grows up securely. If the child doesn’t feel loved, if his tank is empty, he’ll struggle, particularly during the teen years. Most parents know without question that they love their kids. The question is, do my kids feel loved? When kids feel loved, their love tank is full. 


What is another way to identify a love language? 

In addition to paying attention to how they want to interact with you, listening to your child’s complaints will also give you a clue. Ask yourself, what is he saying? If your son is complaining that you haven’t taken him to the park since the baby came, for instance, what he is really asking for is quality time.


In today’s materialistic culture, how does a parent go about speaking the “gift” love language without spoiling the child? 

Parents do have to be careful because kids will manipulate if they get the chance (i.e., If you really love me, you will buy me this.) Gifts don’t have to be big things: a penny or a small stuffed animal says,  “I thought about you.” If the child’s love language truly is gifts, he will appreciate even the smallest item because of what it represents.  


What about discipline and the love languages?

When a child feels loved by you, he will receive discipline in a much more positive way. If he does not feel loved, he will think it is unfair. If words of affirmation are the language, for instance, affirm them before and after the correction. Wrapping discipline in your child’s love language will make it more effective. Your child  will go away feeling he was treated fairly.  


What would you say to the procrastinating parent who has trouble taking the time to learn and speak their child’s love language? 

Now is the time. Again, do your children feel loved? All of us love our children but not all of our children feel loved. This concept helps us know how to make our children feel loved. It is something we can easily communicate with the smallest gestures every day as we live out life with our families.


Margie Sims is the mother of 10 and a frequent contributor to Memphis Parent magazine. Follow  her blog at margiesims.com.

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