Why Learning My Kid’s Love Language Made Parenting A Little Easier
Using the popular assessment can strengthen connections and deepen trust with your child.
As a mom who was now parenting my 10-year-old brother after my mother’s passing, it was safe to say we did not have the parent/child dynamic I was hoping for. In fact, it was damn hard. It turns out that our personalities were like oil and water, and when you added in raging preteen hormones to the mix, well, it was a daily prance around grenades in the battle zone that was my home — and it was time to call in additional troops. In one of our weekly family sessions, our therapist challenged us to do something I had never even considered before: learn each other’s love language. He explained that “The 5 Love Languages” works great with children and family members, not just romantic partners.
If you’re unfamiliar with this assessment, it is originally a book theorizing that everyone gives and receives love differently. It discusses how “learning to recognize these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer.”
So what are the five love languages, you ask?
- Acts of Service (ex. preparing their favorite meal or helping them with small chores or tasks)
- Receiving Gifts (ex. surprising them with their favorite snack or a small present when picking them up from school)
- Quality Time (ex. inviting your child to talk about their day or bringing them along for errands)
- Words of Affirmation (ex. telling your kid you’re proud of them or that you love them often)
- Physical Touch (ex. hug and kisses or tucking in your child for bed or waking them up gently in the morning)
This quick and easy video explains the different types:
After both taking the test, we were not surprised to find out that we were different love languages, but what did shock us was how we grew together with this information. It created a new space for us to hear and see each other differently with no preconceived notions. As we moved through life with this new perspective and integrated each other’s love languages more effectively, I learned three things:
- It created more trust/better communication.
- It took the pressure off having to “decode” his needs.
- It showed him that love could look and feel different for everyone.
According to relationship expert Dr. Heather Browne, “Kids tend to like all of [the love languages], but often there are one or two that are their favorites.”
Though some experts argue that parents should attempt to touch on all five languages with their kids, I think that concept could be incredibly overwhelming, especially for parents wearing multiple hats.
Browne shares a helpful tip, saying, “Their love language will also change based upon what’s going on in the child’s life. If you’ve been away, they might want special moments or touch. If they are struggling in school, they may want words of encouragement. Ask your child how they would ideally like you to do each one for them. Let them test them out.”
My brother scored highest on physical touch and words of affirmation as a close second, while my highest-rated love language was acts of service. Focusing on just these two languages was plenty for me — and was also a digestible pace for him. Based on these results, we as a team decided to start every day with a hug, and I had the task of giving him a positive affirmation at some point of the day. In return, I asked him to acknowledge and notice the moments in which I was expressing love in my own way, like making him his favorite meal.
By doing this, we quickly realized how much we were acting out of love, instead of focusing on what was lacking in our relationship.
If my child is too young for the assessment, can I still learn their love language?
Yes! You could even "make it a fun game and do all five in one day, [and] ask which meant the most or which did they like the most," Browne explains.
In our household, this held true — we naturally partook in a game where we told one another, "I saw how you showed me you loved me today," and as a parent who had struggled so much to create deep connection and common ground, those moments were pure gold.
Though these exercises were primarily meant to make my child feel more loved, they unexpectedly gave me the validation I didn't know I needed to hear, clear indicators I could measure on the hard days and remind myself how great I'm doing as a parent.
I was a mom who was once afraid of leaning in, yet now I found myself ready to love even more intentionally because I had the tools and the confidence to do so.
At what age does my child develop their love language?
As babies grow into children, they themselves are figuring out how they prefer to be loved. When they're infants, they really crave all five love languages strongly, but as they get older, they develop a preference for one or two. According to TherapyChanges, children usually develop their primary love language around 5 to 6 years old. This is why exposing your child to all five as they grow is important.
What indicators can I look for to identify my child’s preferred love language?
Often, even if your child is too young to take the assessment, you can figure out their love language by being mindful of their interactions with you. "Notice how they love on you. We tend to give to others in the way we feel most comfortable loving. So, if your child showers you with kisses, they might crave physical touch. If they give you art, then they might want special moments. The more you look, listen, and ask, your child will be a huge resource for you," Browne shares.
This video illustrates how kids’ everyday behaviors can clue us in to their love language:
Sometimes when other love languages don't come naturally to us as parents, like for me with physical touch, the idea of committing to these new gestures might feel really uncomfortable. But it doesn't have to be super grand gestures.
Ashleigh Edelstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist, explains, "If your child prefers words of affirmation, find ways to tell them you appreciate or thank them. If they prefer quality time, set aside time each day to ask about their day. If they prefer physical touch, give them a hug each morning and night. If they prefer gifts, you could gift them a sticker or make them their favorite meal. If they prefer acts of service, you could carry them to bed and tuck them in."
For me, it was a huge step to implement morning hugs. Though it was a small act of love, it made a big impact, and that would make any parent feel really good.
Whether you and your child share love languages or are polar opposites, you have one thing in common: You both really care about your connection.
Dr. Heather Browne, relationship expert
Ashleigh Edelstein, licensed marriage and family therapist
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