For each of your children, it’s something different that you do that means the most to them. Discover which “love language” speaks to each of your children the most.
By Liba Kahan, MSW
If you’re sending off a child or two to camp this summer, very soon, it’s time to get packing! If you’re like most mothers out there, you probably wish there was some magic tool that would keep the two of you connected all summer long. Well, there is! Here’s something you can do before the day that fills your stomach with butterflies appears on the horizon—something that will make this summer a most meaningful one for both you and your child, despite the physical distance that separates you. There’s a caveat though— it requires some detective work on your part, dear mom!
Learning Your Child’s Love Language
In his highly popular book, “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman posits that there are five ways through which we can express our love to others, but only one or two of them will be most meaningful to the recipient. In other words, if you’re speaking a love language that doesn’t resonate strongly with your husband or child (or anyone else), you may be thinking that you’re doing all you can to express your love, but the recipient isn’t getting it. It’s simply not his language!
Once you discern which love language speaks most to your child, you’ll know exactly which tool to use in your arsenal when you want to express it. So here’s the detective work—in the days ahead, experiment with all five and see how your child responds. And then, when it’s time to wave goodbye and your 24-hour, 7-days-a-week relationship tapers off to a once-a-week phone call, you’ll know exactly how to express your love so that it’ll hit the target and fill your child’s love tank for the week ahead.
The Five Languages 101
Here are the five languages and how they play out in a parent-child relationship. Try them all and see which one resonates most with your child. You’ll realize that although everyone obviously appreciates all five, two or three will mean most to each child.
Words of Affirmation
To some kids, you can’t say “I love you” enough times. They simply crave hearing those words (and other variations of it) because this is the way you affirm your affection to them. It’s quite simple to express love to a child who thrives on love words like “You mean the world to me,” “Just hearing your voice makes my day,” “I can’t wait to come visit because I miss you so much.” Writing love letters to such children works like a charm. All you have to do is say (or write) those words—and mean them, even over the telephone, and you’ve filled her heart.
This is the child whose eyes light up when you hug her or even hold her hand. At home, you can provide this expression of affection by giving your child a massage (most younger children need this every night), patting her on the back, squeezing her hand, or giving her a hug when she leaves and comes home from school or goes to bed.
It’s obviously not possible for you to convey your love through physical touch if you’re physically separated from your child, but thankfully, most people respond best to more than one love language.
Acts of Service
Not every child needs a massage or constant “I love you” messages in order to feel loved. Some children light up when you do something for them—whether it’s showing up at school with a treat, helping them with a difficult assignment, or preparing their favorite supper on the night before an exam. This is the kid who gets so excited when you wash his linen (even more than when you get him a new set!) For this child, expressing your love while he’s at camp may mean sending up a care package once a week or washing his laundry (if that’s a technical possibility). If this child left something important at home or lost something at camp, getting a replacement to him as soon as possible is your perfect chance to express your affection. These are the kind of kids to whom “bending over backwards” is the ultimate way of expressing “I love you.”
Who doesn’t love gifts? You’ll be surprised, though, that while for some people gifts are just “something nice,” for others, it’s a deep affirmation of affection. The things you buy for kids who thrive on gifts will be cherished forever. If they’re expressive, they may keep thanking you for it and constantly bringing up how much it meant to them. And it doesn’t have to expensive. Even bringing them an iced coffee while you’re out on errands and they’re babysitting is a huge gesture of love. To convey your long-distance love to such a child, you can send up something small on a steady basis to camp, such as cute care packages and little trinkets you know your child will appreciate. Don’t worry, she’ll make sure to keep it safe and secure all summer long. After all, she sees your heart in it.
For a child whose love language is quality time, simply spending time in your company is a treat. She’s the kind of child that likes to come along on errands with you—even just for a ride in the car or a walk down the block. She may ask you to sit on her bed as she dozes off. For this child, if you show up to camp one day and take her out for an hour or two, you’ve expressed your love in the deepest way possible—and she doesn’t even need the ice cream or nosh package! All that counts is the time you spent together, talking, sharing, or even in silence.
Now that you’ve got all five languages down pat, it’s time to pull out your investigation hat and get to work. Which of your gestures speaks most to each child? You’ll be surprised with your findings. (And you’ll probably realize that, subconsciously, you’ve been resorting to certain languages more often than others because those are the ones that resonate most with you.)
It’s interesting to note that some kids, especially younger ones, will even be open enough to express their language clearly. You can try this by asking your child, “How do you know that I love you?” When I asked my son this question one night, he said to me, “Because you always tell me that. And you give me the best massages in the world.” My four-year-old daughter, though, had a totally different response. “Because you bought me the red bike for Chanukah and also the Gibbor Book for my birthday.” For the record, we got her the bike two years ago—but the gift resonated with her so deeply that she won’t forget this gesture of love. So yes, that definitely slashed some detective work for us.
Enjoy the experiment and the satisfying relationships that it engenders!
[small_title title=”About Liba Kahan:”]
Liba Kahan is the pen name for a kollel wife and mother of three who lives in Jerusalem. As a writer and therapist, she has spent much time pondering, learning about, and experimenting with important topics such as motherhood, spiritual growth in today’s world, and relationships. She enjoys sharing her findings with you on Between Carpools.