Are you speaking your child’s primary love language?

By: Alyssa Mendez
Parents – discover the different ways you can show love to your children and meet their emotional needs from Dr. Gary Chapman, author of the international bestselling book “The 5 Love Languages” and guest speaker for a Parenting Talk event hosted by Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s Family Ministry. This Valentine’s Day, give your child/teen the gift of love expressed in a personalized, meaningful way!

LOVE. It’s the most important word in the English language, but also one of the most confusing ones, according to Dr. Gary Chapman – an author, speaker, and counselor with a passion for helping people form lasting relationships.

You can say “I love you” to your child and “I love french fries”. The same verb is used in both instances, but it’s implied that the depth of affection is not the same in these two circumstances.

Although our society uses the word love in various contexts, in a free online event hosted by Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale’s Family Ministry that CCA parents were invited to attend, Dr. Chapman discussed love in the context of it being an emotional need and shared how parents can effectively meet this need for their children and teenagers.

Filling the Love Tank

“One of our deepest emotional needs as humans is to feel loved by the significant people in our lives,” said Dr. Chapman. “The question is not if you love your children; the question is, do your children feel loved?”
“The question is not if you love your children; the question is, do your children feel loved?”
Dr. Chapman used the illustration of a “love tank” to gauge the level in which a child feels loved. When a child’s “love tank” is full, he/she grows up emotionally healthy, however, a “love tank” running on empty can not only lead to emotional struggles, but also to searching for love in the wrong places.

It’s important to understand that what makes one person feel loved will not necessarily make another person feel loved, as God has designed each of us uniquely. When we don’t speak someone’s primary “love language” (physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, and acts of service), though our efforts may be sincere, we are missing an opportunity to connect deeply, meaningfully, and consistently. Dr. Chapman compared this to speaking in someone’s native tongue/dialect.

In response to moms and dads around the world desiring to apply these principles to their parenting, Dr. Chapman teamed up with the late child psychiatrist Dr. Ross Campbell to write The 5 Love Languages of Children, as well as The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. He also co-authored a book titled A Teen’s Guide to The 5 Love Languages to help teens better understand themselves and have healthy relationships.

The following love languages and examples stem from these books and were addressed in Calvary’s Parenting Talk event.

Speaking the Five Love Languages

  1. Physical Touch – The power of touch is evident in the way we hug and soothe babies, providing a great sense of security for them. Not only do infants thrive on this, but so do children of every age, according to Dr. Chapman. A child whose primary love language is physical touch might say, “I know my mommy loves me because she hugs me,” or “I feel loved when I wrestle with daddy.”

    “He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’... And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” – Mark 10:14,16

  2. Words of Affirmation – This language involves using words to affirm another person. Parents can use their words to tear their children down (condemnation) or build them up (edification). Words of affection can highlight a child’s personality, character, physical appearance, and how much you value them, while words of praise can focus on their effort rather than their outcome/performance. Additionally, the affirmative words “I love you” should never have any strings or conditions attached to them; they should stand alone.

    “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” – Proverbs 18:21

  3. Quality Time – Giving a child your undivided attention is what this love language is all about. This can take the form of quality conversations, telling stories, and engaging in activities together. Children should be met where they’re at, whether that’s getting on their physical level (sitting and playing on the ground) or by showing genuine interest in their hobbies/interests. Children with quality time as their primary love language regularly ask for their parents’ attention or ask them to play. Having your phone put away is paramount! When full attention is not given, you’re communicating to your child that someone or something else is more important than him/her.
    When full attention is not given, you’re communicating to your child that someone or something else is more important than him/her.
    “He appointed twelve that they might be with him…” – Mark 3:14

  4. Receiving Gifts – The word for gift in Greek means grace, which is defined as unmerited favor. Expressing this language means that gifts should not be given out of obligation or because they are deserved, but simply because we love our child and want to bless him/her. Again, no strings attached here in the form of bribery or rewarding.

    “God is a gift-giving God, and because we are made in His image, we have the capability of giving gifts as an expression of love,” said Dr. Chapman.

    The gift does not have to be expensive; the thought is what counts! If gift receiving is a child’s primary love language, this does not mean the child should receive everything he/she asks for – the same way God doesn’t give us everything we ask for; He bestows gifts that are good for us when we are ready for them.

    Dr. Chapman also noted that children can discern if a parent is trying to “buy their love” by using gifts as a way to compensate. This can often happen in divorced households; those who are co-parenting should aim to discuss whether their child is ready to receive a significant gift and arrive at a mutual agreement, if possible.

    “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” –Romans 8:32

  5. Acts of Service – This language involves doing things for your child – sometimes things they cannot do themselves. For a child with this primary love language, actions speak louder than words! This can sound like, "I feel loved when my mom packs me a yummy lunch every day," or, "I know my dad loves me because he helps me with my homework each night." As kids get older, parents can express this language by teaching them to do things that will help them grow in independence (i.e. making the bed, doing laundry, cooking, mowing the lawn, changing a tire, etc.).

    “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:18

Determining Your Child’s Primary Love Language

Hopefully, by reading each description above, you’re able to identify your child’s primary love language – the language that’s going to speak more deeply to him/her than the other four. Sometimes people have two primary languages and are considered “bilingual”.

A primary love language is often developed between the ages of three and four and tends to stay with children for a lifetime, according to Dr. Chapman. However, this doesn’t mean that your child doesn’t value the other four! Even though the primary language gets a heavier pour into the love tank, Dr. Chapman advises that you should still be sprinkling in the other four.

“We want the child to give and receive love in all five languages. That is the healthiest adult,” said Dr. Chapman.

If you’re still unsure what your child’s primary language is, watch and observe how he/she expresses love toward others; the way your child shows love is likely the way he/she desires to receive it as well. Dr. Chapman also recommends being mindful of what your child requests and complains about most often. If your daughter frequently asks to go on a walk after dinner, her primary love language is likely quality time. If your son complains about not being able to live up to your expectations, words of affirmation is likely his primary language.
The way your child shows their love is likely the way he/she desires to receive it as well.
Additionally, you can ask your child what makes him/her feel loved, perhaps presenting different examples from each of the five languages noted above. Valentine’s Day is a timely holiday for this discussion!

Dr. Chapman recommends that parents of teenagers ask, “If you could change one thing about me, what would it be?”, after communicating their sincere desire to be a better parent. The answer to that question should provide insight into what your teen needs from you emotionally. Note that as your child gets older, he/she may need you to speak a different dialect of their primary language – receiving love in a different context that doesn’t feel childish, embarrassing, or off-putting.

There’s also a quiz older children and teens can take on The 5 Love Languages website; couples and singles alike can take this quiz too!

Relying on the Holy Spirit’s Power 

Speaking the five love languages may not come naturally to you, especially if they were not modeled to you as a child or expressed inappropriately.

The good news is that when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become new creations and can experience freedom from our past traumas. Through His Spirit, He empowers and helps us to love the way He does. While this may surely take work and practice on our part, He gives us ample grace (James 4:6).

Ultimately, when we love our children (and others) well, we are witnessing and drawing others to Jesus’ perfect love.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:25


If you’d like to watch the full video recording of Dr. Chapman’s Parenting Talk, click here. The recording includes a Q&A portion at the end that addresses tips for blended families along with other practical advice.
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