I have twin boys, Jonah and Levi, who will turn 4 this month. They are 2 minutes apart in age but worlds apart in how they navigate this thing called life. As a trained counselor with over two decades of working with kids in a variety of settings you would think I would be doing well at this parenting gig. Some days I can say maybe I am handling it, but on others I feel like I am trying to make sense of the instructions from the manual in a different language! Have you been there? Whether you are a teacher, grandparent, or caregiver, I am sure you have been there as well—something seems to be lost in translation! As I have investigated the positive days of parenting, I started to look at why it was great on some days and on others it was brutal. As I took a deep dive, I recognized a significant difference on those positive days was my ability to recognize and express love to my children in their own love language.
What do you mean by love languages and kids have love languages?! The term Love Languages, taken from Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages, refers to one’s ability to show and receive love. There are five universal languages in which we all we show and receive love. As caregivers it is crucial that we try to express love to our children in their own love language.
Why is speaking your child’s love language so important? Let’s look at the relationship part of the brain-- the Limbic System. The Limbic System is the area of our brain that is wired for connection, attachment, emotions, and relationship building. As we grow and develop, we are given opportunities to strengthen this part of the brain through predictable, relational connections. Research in the late 1980s and early 1990s discovered mirror neurons, an important thing to consider as we investigate the limbic system and our individual love languages.
What are mirror neurons? According to the American Psychological Association, “Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action.” A great example of this is the strange googly-eyed faces we make when we are holding a baby in our arms as we try to get them to smile. Mirror neurons are at work as the infant responds back to us and smiles, giggles, and coos. Their brain is sending signals that says, this is love and this is a safe, predictable connection. As the child grows and develops, their love languages begin to emerge and that shapes the lens through which they will filter our love. In this process, there is little cognition or reasoning that takes place for the child. They simply respond to the sensations and emotional tone of the situation. Then based off previous experiences they interpret the expression of love from us. Let’s take diaper changing as another example.
One of my primary love languages is acts of service and so the lens in which I would view changing my boys’ diapers is act of service. However, diaper changing could be interpreted in a variety of ways for the child. Is it quality time during diaper changing that they have with me and so they begin to interpret love through the lens of quality time. Could it be that they experience the diaper changing through physical touch. Then they begin to experience love through the lens of positive touch. Is it possible that they experience a fresh new diaper as a gift and so they experience love through gifts. Or perhaps during the diaper changing, they pick up on the words and emotional tone and experience love through words of affirmation. There are many ways to explain how or why they interpret the same act different ways, but that is for a different article. The thing we do know is that the simple act of changing a diaper begins to lay the framework for our child’s love language. The more that framework is solidified in the child, the more imperative it is for us as caregivers to be attuned to their emerging love language. As we learn their love language, we are then able to better express our love to them in a language they can receive. We can all experience love in the 5 universal languages, but there is one that is our primary love language that matters most. "You have to know how to communicate love to a child so that he genuinely feels loved." Gary Chapman, PhD.
As your child grows and develops it is important for us to learn their primary love language and discover ways to express it—especially when their love language is different from our own. In our workshop, Learning Your Child’s Love Language, we will dig deeper into each of the love languages, as well as strategies for expressing love in each one. We have created a simple way to see what your child’s love language may be:
Quality Time—Does your child beg for you to play the game for the millionth time? Do they ask you to go and look at something in their room? These are sign that your child’s love language may be quality time. They want to spend time with you while you are focused and giving them your undivided attention.
Acts of service—Does your child enjoy when you do small acts of service for them like helping them pack their lunch or tie their shoes? Does your child ask you to do a lot for them? While this may feel like manipulation, it may be your child’s way of experiencing love and connection with you. Do you notice they do small acts of service for you and seek recognition or praise from you for what they did?
Words of Affirmation—Do you notice your child shows you their creations, school projects or tells you about what happened at school? Do they tell you that you are their favorite person? Do they listen carefully to what you say and repeat back your statements? Your child may have the love language of words of affirmation.
Physical Touch—"Tickle me!” “Chase me” or “Hold me” may be phrases you will hear from your child. They may also ask for kisses on their boo boos or Band-Aids on their “ouchies”. They may be the child that has to sit right next to you on the couch to cuddle during a movie. These are signs your child may have the love language of physical touch.
Gifts—this can be a tricky one as it is not about purchasing something of monetary value. Does your child appreciate it if you bring a souvenir home from a work trip or a special rock you found while out on a walk? Do they often make things for you and present them to you when you get home from work? These may be signs that your child has the love language of gifts.
Learning the love languages of our child is not simple and it requires us to constantly be attuned to our child to know that we have expressed our love in a way they can understand. This is not easy, but I will tell you, on those days when you communicate in their primary love language, you will see them light up because they experienced deep love and connection. And those moments make it worth all the effort and energy! If you are looking to learn a little more about this, I would love to have you join us at our workshop February 21st at 6:30pm. This course is FREE but space is limited! Reserve your spot at www.gatewayfamilyservices.org