It is commonly known that parents and their children have differing views about the kind of relationship that exists between them. Research shows that while parents often think he or she has been loving and attentive, the child still feels rejected and a bit unloved. A particular study indicated that while most Fathers thought they had fulfilled their obligations, three out of every four teenagers got the impression that they did not mean much to their fathers.
This same difference in perception may also be proved to exist between the child and the parent, who doubles as the primary caregiver. Here’s what 11-year old Maya said: “My mother works hard to support us. I guess she loves me, but I wish she wouldn’t criticize me so much.”
Helping Your Child Feel Loved.
As a parent, the question to ask yourself is not: “Do I love my children?”
The right question should be: “Do my children feel loved?” Parental sincerity does not cut it. As parents, we must learn to speak our child’s primary love language. As a witness of differing children’s behaviours, I am convinced that much of a child’s misbehaviour stems from an empty love tank. All children have the same primary love tank – that is, the language that speaks most deeply to the child’s soul and meets their emotional need to feel loved. As parents, if we fail to discover and speak our child’s primary love language, then the child may feel unloved as though the parent is speaking other languages. Look at this example: As a single Mum, I know that when my two children’s love tank is empty, they start rebelling and throwing tantrums. This happens because I haven’t spent enough Quality Time with them.
Let’s briefly go over the 5 Love Languages, as we focus on seeking to apply them to your child.
Love Language #1: Through Words of Affirmation.
This love language allows you to affirm your child’s worth through verbal expressions. Words like “I love you. You look nice in those pants.”,“You did a great job cleaning your room.”, “Thank you for helping me do the dishes.”, and “I am so proud of you.” are words of affirmation. The simple words “I love you” can be likened to gentle feathers landing on the soul of the child. However, harsh or cutting words, expressed and spoken out of anger, can damage your child’s self-esteem and be remembered for a life time.
Again, eleven-year old Maya demonstrated that words of affirmation was her primary love language when she said, “I guess she loves me, but I wish she wouldn’t criticize me so much”. By saying this, Maya was also demonstrating another reality; that when using a child’s primary love language in a negative way, it hurts that child deeper than it would any other child. Since Maya’s primary love language was the words of affirmation, her mother’s negative words cut deeper into her heart, leaving her feeling unloved and rejected.
Love Language #2: Through Gifts.
Every gift speaks for itself. A gift says, “Someone was thinking about me. Look what they got for me.” However, gifts do not need to be expensive. They can be as simple as a flower you picked from the front yard, or a sea shell from the beach. Even a new school bag can be offered as a gift from a single parent.
Gifts should NEVER be given to a child as a token for making their bed or helping dry the dishes- such are gifts of service, not of true love. Gifts are given because the parent loves, not because the child deserves them. When you return from a holiday and bring your two sons a toy dump truck or toy dirt bike, one son jumps up and down says, “Thank you, thank you”, playing with them day in day out. Then the other son says, “Thank you”, drops the toys in his bedroom and starts asking about your trip. By doing this, the second son is demonstrating his primary love language: quality time. He is far more interested in your attention than in the gift, while the first son’s primary love language is receiving gifts.
Love Language #3: Through Quality Time.
Quality time means giving your child your undivided attention. With small children, undivided attention is sitting on the floor, bouncing them on your lap or sitting on the couch while reading a book to them. With older children, it may be taking a walk to the park and kicking a soccer ball, walking along the beach or simply sitting, or even closely cuddling on the couch while watching the child’s favourite movie. Since children are at different levels of maturity, spending quality time with them means we must go wherever they want to. This is a great way of learning to discover their interest as we enter into their world.
Physical proximity does is NOT quality time. Rather, father and son watching a cricket or football game is quality time if the child senses that he is the focus of the father’s attention. If the father’s attention is solely on the game, the son most likely feels rejected. The son would say; “My father and I did activities together but came away feeling emotionally empty with an empty love tank, because whenever talks to me about what I’m thinking and feeling.”
Love Language #4: Through Physical Touch.
Physical touch includes hugs and kisses, but it also involves a hand on the shoulder, pat on the back, holding hands as you cross the street, and rolling around on the floor. I asked a ten-year-old, “On a scale of 1- 10, how much does mummy love you?” Without second guessing, she said, “10”. When I asked her, “10 really?”, she replied, “Yes, because Mum always kiss me at as she’s drops me off at school, hugs me at bedtime and kisses me on the head.”
Always remember, physical touch is a powerful communicator of emotional love.
Love Language #5: Through Acts of Service.
Doing things for a child that the child cannot do for himself/herself is an expression of love. This language is often spoken early through acts like; changing nappies, feeding the baby and responding to the infant’s physical needs. Over the next 18 years; life is full of preparing meals, washing clothes, putting on band-aids, fixing toys and thousands of other acts of service. If done in a spirit of kindness, these are emotional expressions of love.
As children grow older, we serve them by teaching them skills necessary to take care of themselves: cooking meals, is a way of teaching them how to prepare meals.
Acts of service are powerful way of communicating emotional love to children. Maya aged 10, said “I know Mum loves me because she always helps me with my homework, especially my English.”
How to Discover Your Child’s Love Language.
So how does a parent discover their child’s primary love language? Let’s review the principles we talked about:
- Observe how your child expresses love to you. If your daughter is always seeking hugs, this maybe an indication that her primary love language is physical touch. If your son is always saying words of praises or thanks like, “Mum, thanks for making my favourite meal”, his love language might be words of affirmation.
- Listen to your child’s requests. What the child requests most often is clues to his/her primary love language. Has your child ever said to you, “Mum, can you read me a story?”, or “Dad can we go to the park?” Children that ask for these seek for quality time, which is most likely their primary love language.
- Listen to the complaints. Expressions like “Why didn’t you bring me a present?” might be your daughter’s way of telling you that her love language is gifts. “We hardly ever go to the beach anymore” could also be an indication that the child’s primary love language is Quality Time.
If these three approaches don’t reveal your child’s primary love language, then experiment by focusing on speaking one of the other five love languages each week and observing your child’s response. When you end up speaking your child’s primary love language, you will see a noticeable difference in his/her attitude towards you.