5 Ways To Help Your Child Feel Your Love
There are 5 ways to help children feel your love, but one or two will work best on your child.
Before the drought, there was a corner of my garden that was dying, despite the presence of my irrigation system. The solution was as simple as changing the angle of a nearby irrigation outlet in order to reach that part of my garden.
A simple bit of wisdom, but one sorely missed in our relationships.
Sure, we may have love for our children or spouse. We may want them to feel that love. But if the angle we take in showing them this love is wrong, despite the presence and intention of our love, that person will experience no love at all.
Until we change the angle we take, they will wilt. Even though we think and claim that we do love them.
DISCOVERING MY KIDS’ LOVE LANGUAGES
The other day Julie and I asked each of our kids a simple question, not in front of the others, just on their own.
“Imagine mommy and daddy could love you in only one way. Out of five ways, which would be your favourite way out of 5 choices? 1. Touch – we will hug and tickle you. 2. Words – we will tell you that we love you with words. 3. Gifts – we will give you special little gifts. 4. Service – we will do stuff for you, help you with things. 5. Time – we will spend time with you, with all our attention on you. Which one would you take?”
Eli (10) said he’d choose touch. Fynn (8) said words. Ivy (6), gifts. Charlie (4), acts of service, and Sammy (4) time.
One family. Five kids. And five completely different ways of feeling loved!
As Julie and I have reflected on what we know about each of our kids, we’ve realized that their answers were totally correct. These really are their preferred way of experiencing love and warmth from us.
THE JOY OF FEELING LOVED (AND THE MISERY OF NOT)
Human beings are relational beings. We are built for close relationships. These relationships are most healthy and most satisfying when we give and receive love.
There are many reasons that a partner can start playing up, but none more than when they feel disconnected from you, maybe even unloved by you.
The same is true, perhaps more so, with our kids. If marriage is about mutual love, parenting is far more about one-way love. Whether our kids love us back or not is not the main thing. The main thing is that we are loving them, and they feel loved.
Show me a child who is acting terribly, and most times it is either because they are tired, sick, in pain or because they’re feeling disconnected from their parents.
If being loved, makes us feel joy, then feeling unloved makes us miserable, and a misery to the person whom we perceive to be failing us. Instead of just saying the words, ‘Love me’ we tend to communicate our pain in painful ways.
(On that point, what a common mistake we make when we then try discipline the bad behavior, without realizing there’s something deeper going on here.)
Then again, there are some people who’s feeling of being unloved makes them simply cut off emotionally from you, which is even worse. They appear to be fine on their own, but actually a cavern of emptiness deepens in their hearts.
All that to say, we owe it to the people closest to us to love them in a way they can actually receive it and feel it.
FIVE LOVE LANGUAGES: THE BIG IDEAS
In the late 90s, Gary Chapman, a marriage and parenting counselor, wrote the book, ‘The Five Love Languages’. In it he reflected on what he kept on seeing go wrong in these closest of relationships.
Every year since then, it has sold more copies than any year before. Some of the big ideas:
Each of us has our preferred way of receiving love. There are five love languages…
- Words of affirmation. Speaking warmly and affirmatively to another, especially the words, ‘I love you.’
- Affectionate touch. Gently holding, hugging, patting, kissing or tickling another.
- Quality time. Spending undistracted time with someone, maybe doing something together, enjoying each other’s presence.
- Special gifts. Making, finding or buying thoughtful gifts for the person, often with the element of surprise thrown in.
- Acts of service. Doing stuff for or helping them with something practical.
Most of us have got emotional receptors that will help us experience at least some love from each of these five acts, but usually one or two of them work far more for us than any of the others.
Additionally, we tend to offer this to the people we love, assuming it will work the same wonders on them as it does on us.
DISCERNING YOUR CHILD’S LOVE LANGUAGE
I wonder if you’ve yet discerned your love’s preferred love language(s) yet?
Keep in mind, the younger they are, the wetter the cement of their personalities. In the first 3 years of a person’s life it’s very difficult to tell, but by the time they’re 4 it becomes more obvious. Although having said that, a child’s cement remains soft for a long time yet – so don’t be surprised if 6 months from now, your kids answer the question of how they feel loved quite differently to how they respond today.
That said, I think we can still make a start in finding out. Here are three ways to do so…
- Like Julie and I did, ask your children directly.
- Reflect on what you were doing in the past when your child seemed to most be lapping up your love. They may have showed this by saying they love you, or are grateful you are their mom / dad.
- Watch how they try to show you love, as well as others. When it comes to love, we tend to give it the way we like to get it.
DISCERNING YOUR OWN LOVE LANGUAGE.
What is your love language? I believe it becomes most evident to us in our spousal relationships. So go ahead, ask the same questions of yourself…
- If you could only receive love in one of those 5 ways, which would it be?
- Reflect on how your partner was communicating love when you felt most satisfied by and grateful for their love.
- Consider the instinctive way you tend to show love to others.
You can do the same exercise with your partner.
My experience is that the easiest marriages are those where both partners share the same love language(s). There’s no translation needed. You both speak the same language.
If you and your partner have very different love languages, keep in mind that your default setting to love others in the same way you like to be loved will not be as effective as you would have hoped. Just knowing this is and cultivating an awareness of your partner’s love language is half the battle won.
GETTING BACK TO YOUR CHILD(REN)
So now that you know both your love language and your child’s…
If they’re the same, thank your lucky stars. Your love irrigator seems to angle correctly without any need for adjustment. By merely loving them the way you like to be loved, they are going to feel loved.
But, if they’re different, then I suggest you get to work in becoming an expert translator. What you’re saying, they’re not hearing. What you’re spraying, they’re not feeling.
THE AWKWARDNESS OF CHANGING OUR APPROACH
Learning to love others in a way different to how you like to be loved is like shifting from your strong hand to your weak hand.
Awkward as it feels, and long as it may take, you must change your hand. Eventually you might even become relationally ambidextrous!
Do you know the basic model for forming a new competency? Here it is.
- Stage 1: Unconscious incompetency.
- Stage 2: Conscious incompetency.
- Stage 3: Conscious competency.
- Stage 4: Unconscious competency.
You move from stage 1 to 2 when you realize that this child/spouse is doomed to feel a widening disconnect from you over the years, if you continue to love them according to your language not theirs.
Then you slowly move from stage 2 to stage 3 as you continue to choose to unlearn and relearn – daily translating your desire to show love by doing on-the-spot translations, loving them in a way that feels unnatural for you, but works wonders for them. One day (who knows when exactly), you’ll realise you’ve reached stage 4 – having acquired a new competency that now comes pretty naturally to you.
BECOMING FLUENT IN ALL 5 LOVE LANGUAGES.
Here are my in-the-trenches thoughts about loving my 5 kids. Perhaps they’ll spark off some of your own ideas and strategies for loving your child(ren)…
Loving Eli with touch.
Mindful of his love language, I hug him when I come home. I put my hand on his shoulder or head when I talk to him. I hold his hand when we go for a walk. (Of course, if/when he no longer feels comfortable with me doing this, I’ll respectively give him the space he needs.)
I put my arm around him when we watch a move. My (and his) favourite time of affection is to snuggle next to him at bed-time, when we talk and I tickle his back.
And then there’s play-fighting, probably my boys’ favourite way to get their skin-on-skin needs met by dad.
I went to a parenting event last week, and one speaker said that if you want your kids to survive emotionally, touch them four times a day. But if you want them to thrive, touch them 12 times a day.
That might not be true of all my kids, but I guess it certainly is with Eli. As with all love languages, we probably can’t do too much of the right love language.
Loving Fynn with words.
Nothing fills up Fynn’s love tank like hearing our affirming words.
Just yesterday I said to him, ‘My boy, I love you with all my heart. And I hope you realize there is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less. But more than loving you, I am proud of you. Life is full of challenges, but when I look at the guy you’re growing into, it’s clear as day that you’ve got what it takes to do the right thing, to overcome a challenge, to serve other people. You’re doing really well as a human, a son, a brother, a school pupil. And I am not talking about talents here – yes, you have lots of those – what really impresses me is your grit, your effort, your courage. And did I mention that I love you?’
These words might sound excessive to you, but you should see how Fynn’s entire posture changes as I say them. He’s stands up like a leafy plant that has been watered after weeks of no water.
On the flip side, nothing can hurt Fynn like unaffirming words. He is hyper-sensitive to criticism and harsh words. Note to self: ‘Kindness is king, but especially when it comes to the tone and words we say to someone whose love language is words.’
Loving Ivy with gifts.
As I was writing this post, Ivy comes to me to show me the card she has spent an hour making for her Grade 1 teacher. It has a beautiful picture on it. It includes a note which she dictated to Julie to write out about how much she is going to miss her teacher this coming holiday, and it enfolds some of Ivy’s personal money she’s saved up to give her to treat herself! It reads, ‘I hope you like my gift. It starts with mmm and ends with eee.’
Come to think of it, when I have taken Ivy on a daddy-daughter date, she has always pressed me to buy her a little chocolate or something little. I realize now that this was not about the thing itself, as much as it was her attempt to draw more love out of me.
Gifts leave me cold (unless it’s something that will improve my experience of surfing.) Thank goodness, they also mean little to Julie. (In fact, I have a memory of buying Julie flowers, only to watch her give them away within the day to someone else.)
So Julie might not need gifts to feel my love, but Ivy is the other woman in my life. And, given my default setting, I am doing a terrible job of filling her love tank.
So, I am going to start working on this. Julie explains to me that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It can be as simple as buying a little something for her at the airport, or picking a wildflower or interesting stone when we’re going for a walk, and of course, drawing her a picture and writing a little note.
Tomorrow I am going to put a little surprise note in her lunchbox.
Just a simple change of angle.
Loving Charlie with acts of service.
Earlier today, I looked at Charlie and pictured his invisible love language, and said, ‘How can I help you my boy?’
See, I’d spoken the magic words. His head shot up. ‘Um, yes’ he said, as he thought of what. He walked to the fridge, opened it, and pointed to the top shelf,
‘Um, please pass me a … a plum.’ When he finished his plum, I asked if I could do anything else to help him. He said I could give him a plastic packet so he can pack leaves from our driveway. I would ordinarily have said no but I am (for the moment at least) awake to this secret, invisible language, and so I said, ‘Sure thing!’
As I write I’m watching him pick up leaves. I say the words I know he wants to hear, ‘Thanks so much for helping our family.’ He smiles as he realizes the love he is sending is being received.
Helping and serving him, and acknowledging his help and service is one of the best ways I can help him feel loved and part of this family. (Now that I think about it, I understand why he is so upset with me that I still have not fixed his bike.)
Finally, loving Sam with time.
As it is, unless I change tack, Sam is the kid who is most likely to go into life feeling the furthest distance from me. Because Julie and my time is already divided by 5 and he is getting less time than the average kid, when in fact he needs more.
As I write this, Charlie packs leaves. Ivy has joined him, but Sammy … sits by my side. Of course, I get it now.
So, I swing my head to him and say, ‘I like being with you.’
Come to think of it, when I try show him I love him, and hug him and squeeze him, and whisper that I love him in his ear, he seems to shake it off like a duck does water. This has perplexed me until recently.
But right now, as I just enjoy him sitting next to me, I take a moment to speak his invisible language by acknowledging that I like to spend time with him.
A little earlier, I was holding in my hand some bits of plastic he kept on bringing me that he found in the garage. ‘What’s this?’ and ‘What’s this?’ he asked. Now I realize it’s not about the thing, it’s about him being able to stop me doing what I am doing. It’s about me looking him in his eyes and answering his questions. It spelt ‘interruption’ for me, but it read ‘love’ for him.
As I take his questions, I remind myself that I am meant to listen not just with my ears but with my eyes. I also know these little moments I am giving him are not enough, so I tell myself, ‘Later today I must ask him if I can push him on the swing, just him and me.’
HOW ABOUT YOU?
I hope that this actually helps you. To make sure you not only have read this, but are ready to apply it to your family, take some moments to answer these questions…
- What is your love language?
- What is your partner’s?
- And each of your children?
- Which of them have the same language as you and are thus likely receiving your love best?
- Which of them have a different language to you?
- How can you keep each person’s love language front of mind?
- What are some ways you need to start loving them better?
- What are some things you need to do less of, or even stop?