“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways” . . . .
Of course you love your children. You have probably heard over and over again how important giving unconditional love is to your children’s self esteem; yet, despite your best efforts, you may still hear, “You don’t love me.” You may think of all the sacrifices you make for your children – the sleepless nights when they are young (and again when they are teens), the endless carpool runs, the searching of every store for the “right” item, and the assistance with school assignments even when you have your own work to do. No matter how much you do for your children in the name of love, they still persist with “I thought you said you love me.” How can that be?
It turns out that all of us, children and adults alike, have a preferred way in which we understand love. Furthermore, for a child to feel love, you must speak his unique love language. If you don’t, you might spend a lot of time and effort trying to reassure your child, but it will not translate into love to him. When you do speak his language, even when you are not with him, your words or actions can reassure him that you care about him and “have his back.” In his book Five Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman identifies distinct ways through which children can feel loved:
Words of Affirmation: There are children who need to hear that you treasure them and why you do so. Your words carry tremendous weight with them and can help them through life’s tough moments.
Quality Time: Your being with your children is what lets some children feel loved. A few extra minutes one-on-one or a regularly scheduled outing can carry them through the day.
Acts of Service: For some children it is not what you say but what you do that counts. Helping with everyday tasks or offering to assist with a grand project lets them know that you are on their side.
Physical Touch: Hugs and sitting next to each other while you read or work allow some children to feel safe, secure, and loved. No amount of words or objects can replace the physical connection.
Gifts: A physical object can be a tangible reminder for some children that they are loved. It differs from a materialistic “I want it!” Rather for these children, it is a “Look what you gave me!” The items do not need to be extravagant. Even everyday purchases that you would buy for them anyway can be given in the spirit of a gift.
Examples of Love Languages in Action:
|ON A DAILY BASIS||FOR A SPECIAL OCCASION|
|Words of Affirmation||Say “I love you.”Give one heartfelt compliment.
|Give a card that lists all the special traits your child possesses that you value.|
|Quality Time||Set aside a small part of each day just to talk and listen to your child.||Plan a special outing to celebrate.|
|Acts of Service||Do something for or with your child that he could do for himself, such as have a cold drink waiting for him when he comes in from playing on a hot day.||Make a birthday cake using the special family recipe.|
|Physical Touch||Give a big hug when you first see him in the morning, after school, and before bed.||Give him a big hug and plan to sit next to him at the dinner celebration.|
|Gifts||Have a display area in the child’s room to showcase items given to her by people who are important to her.||Tell your child how you decided on the item and what you did to buy it for her. The whole process makes the item and what it represents to her more important.|
What is your Child’s Preferred Style?
In trying to determine your children’s preferred love language, you may want to first be aware of what you are currently doing to express your love. People most often either give the way they were given to when they were raised or give to others in their own preferred love language. However, if you want your children to feel most loved, then you need to speak to them in their preferred language. To help you decide which style best suits your children, you can first observe what seems to work. For example, does your child light up when you have an after-school snack ready or when you tell him how glad you are to have him home at the end of the school day?
Also, ask your children, “How do you know I love you?” Their answers may provide clues. Take for example the following real responses:
“Because nobody else in the world could possibly tell me more often than you do.”
“Because of all the special times we share.”
“Because of everything you do for me.”
“Because you cuddle with me.”
“Because of all the things you buy for me and everything you don’t buy for me.”
While most children feel loved in a combination of two or more styles, usually a primary method prevails. And like everything else in parenting, a child’s preferred technique may change as he grows. So a youngster who thrives on physical touch may become a teenager who desires acts of service. This same teen, however, may still appreciate having her hair brushed or a sore muscle massaged.
Don’t you have enough to do without worrying about how to love your children? Yes, parents are quite busy. However, a healthy relationship is the underlying basis for children’s self-esteem and ultimately their behavior. When your relationship is strong, your children feel loved and they are more likely to follow your direction. Perhaps a bit more energy put into loving your children in a way that “speaks” to them will save you from expending your resources disciplining them. Instead of new ways of setting limits, perhaps you can find new ways of loving them – five new ways – let me count the ways.
By Deb Cohen, Certified Parenting Educator
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