Have you heard friends or family mention using each other’s “love language”?
It is a concept that Dr. Gary Chapman wrote about in his book, “The 5 Love Languages.” Dr. Chapman believes everyone expresses and experiences love in the same five ways – physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, and quality time – but each person has a primary language that is most meaningful to them. Relationships are more likely to thrive when people show their love in the language that the other person prefers – even if it’s different from their own primary love language.
This is true in romantic relationships, as well as relationships between parents/caregivers and their children and teens. The primary love language of children and teens may change as they grow, so it helps to learn how to “speak” each language and be ready to show your love in multiple ways. Here are some ideas for speaking the love language of your children (and try them with your partner and other important people in your life!):
Physical Touch – This is also a Triple P parenting strategy for building strong relationships. Show your love through physical touch and affection, including hugs, back rubs, holding hands, snuggles, high fives, tickling, or even wrestling.
Receiving Gifts – If this is someone’s primary love language, it doesn’t mean they are shallow or materialistic. Instead, they assign special meaning to physical items they receive from someone they care about. The actual gift could be a note, a flower, a star or sticker on a chore chart – i.e. it doesn’t have to be an expensive present. Likewise, if this is your child’s love language, then it will mean a lot when you show appreciation for the gifts they give to you – a drawing, a school art project, or a rock or shell they found on their walk with you, for example.
Words of Appreciation – For some people, hearing praise, positive feedback, supportive words, encouragement, and acknowledgement feeds their soul. It reminds them they are seen and valued and both their efforts and accomplishments are noticed. Try leaving notes in surprise places (on their pillow, on a computer or notebook), sending texts, giving praise and encouragement, or letting them overhear you tell someone else (even your family pet or child’s favorite stuffed animal) how much you love and appreciate them.
Acts of Service – This doesn’t mean doing everything for your kids (or partner) whenever they want something. Instead, speak this love language through thoughtful gestures, like making their favorite food for dinner, helping them with a difficult homework assignment, or occasionally doing one of their chores for them when you know they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Quality Time – This is also one of the most effective Triple P strategies for building strong relationships. In Triple P, quality time can be brief and frequent – it doesn’t always require dedicating hours to doing an activity together, which often feels impossible and unrealistic. The most important thing to do is to stop what you’re doing and give your full attention when your child or teen wants to talk or show you something. This shows you care about their needs, opinions, and interests – and that you’re available when they need you.
Final Thoughts: Think about which love languages mean the most to you and other people in your family. Express your love for them in their preferred love language – even if it feels unnatural or unnecessary to you. Being willing to learn and “speak” someone else’s love language is part of showing you care. And if your family needs help speaking your love language, give them some ideas – “I really love it when you leave me little notes – it makes me feel good to know you’re thinking about me” – until they become fluent in your love language!
CPI's monthly parenting article provides tips for families raising children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available in Sonoma County at CPI. If you have a question or idea for a future column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is created by Nicole Young, the mother of two children, ages 16 and 20, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally through the Child Parent Institute. Our classes are listed at calparents.org/classes.