What Is Your Child's Love Language? Decode and Reciprocate

Published January 28, 2022
Happy parents and children playing with boxes

Like their adult counterparts, children express and receive love in varying ways, with each person primarily gravitating towards one of the five identified love languages. These five love languages: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service, can help parents better understand how to express love for each one of their children, depending on the child's style of interpreting love.

Love Is a Language

Showing your child love seems like a simple enough concept. After all, your heart literally explodes with affection for your child, and there aren't even words in the human language to fully describe the extent to which you adore them. Loving your baby is a piece of cake, as natural as the act of breathing, but how your child receives that love can be a bit more complex. According to famed authors Gary Chapman, PhD and Ross Campbell, MD, authors of The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively, both adults and children connect to differing ways of expressing and receiving love. The love languages are similar for both kids and grown-ups, while the expressive actions might vary based on development. Our job as parents is to identify what love language our kids best connect with, and then tailor our love to actions that suit or complement their individual love language.

The five love languages for kids

Decoding love languages isn't too challenging for parents when they really stop, watch their children's behaviors and signs, identify the love language, and learn various ways to express love in the desired manner. The hard part is, every child you have is going to absorb and interpret your love a bit differently. You could have several children, all with a different love language, meaning you have to modify how you express love to each one of your children.

Physical Touch

One of the five love languages that humans are drawn to is that of physical touch. Most people need physical connection to some degree, but those who speak this love language might need more of it. They know they are cared for when other people express their connection to them via physicality.

Mother kissing daughter at home

Behaviors and Signs That Physical Touch Is Your Child's Love Language

Does your child act out and become immediately calm when you hold them or rock them? If the answer is yes, they might speak the love language of physical touch. Is your child one of those littles who strokes your hair, curls up into your lap whenever possible, and reaches out for your hand while out and about? These actions serve as further hints that physical touch is the love language the child identifies with best.

Suggestions for Connecting With Your Child

Once you have looked at your child's behaviors and identified signs that point toward the love language of physical touch, you'll want to find ways to express your love to them so they receive it optimally. For young children who speak the physical touch love language, try:

  • Hugging
  • Rubbing their back or holding their hand
  • Cuddles and snuggles while watching television or reading
  • Engaging in activities that include touch, like spa and hair salon

Older kids become too cool for school and might think themselves far too mature to run into your loving arms at the end of the day. That said, their love language hasn't changed just because they are getting up there in years. They still crave physical contact, but the contact might look different now that they are growing up.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation are powerful tools that can feed a person's self-esteem. Every parent should tell their kids just how wonderful they are, but some kids absorb and internalize words of affirmation more deeply than others, because this is their preferred love language. Tell them they are amazing, capable, and so loved every chance you get, so you fill their little love tanks up to the brim.

Behaviors and Signs That Words of Affirmation Are Your Child's Love Language

Children who identify with this particular love language are often verbal beings. They are the kids who tell you just how much they love you every chance they get. Just as they enjoy articulating their love for you, they like to hear and see words of love and affirmation from parents.

Suggestions for Connecting With Your Child

If you suspect that your child connects best with words of affirmation, be sure to give them all the verbal love that you can! With young children, try:

  • Telling kids you love them, be sure to get on their eye level and connect this way when you tell them that you adore them.
  • Tell children what they do that you love. Say things like, "I really love how you just shared that with your brother." Or "I love when you help clean up the toy room."
  • Reward their successes with words. When they do well on a school project, take the time to say "great job" and articulate what was so great and special about it. These kids enjoy having their efforts noticed and commented on.
  • Leave notes in lunchboxes or backpacks so kids can read your affirmation of love during their school day.

Older kids like to be verbally praised just as they did once upon a time. You might choose your words more wisely or deliver them in a manner that best suits your growing child.

  • Leave notes of affirmation on a pillow or a bathroom mirror, as older kids still like to hear your words of adoration, just not as publically as they did in the younger years.
  • Write an inscription on the inside cover of a book.
  • Give them words of affirmation after a test they scored well on or a sports game they played well in.
  • Text them that you love them during their day.

Quality Time

The gift of time is a fantastic thing, and you want to give your kids as much of your attention as you can. Remember, you don't get this time back! Some kids will want more of your attention compared to others. That is because their love language is quality time with you. Be sure to carve out time to spend with your darling. What you do isn't necessarily as important as the actual act of spending time in each other's presence.

Boy making a puzzle with his dad

Behaviors and Signs That Quality Time Is Your Child's Love Language

If your child loves to hang out, cannot wait to get in the car and go to the grocery store, or enjoys sitting in the kitchen chatting while you prepare dinner, they probably identify with quality time as their love language. They prefer to let go of distractions, and relish having some moments with you all to themselves.

Suggestions for Connecting With Your Child

Time is something that most parents seem to run short on. There is always a task to tend to, a meeting to rush to, or a million other things pulling you in directions that don't lend themselves to creating spaces of time with the kids. If you have kids whose love language is quality time, it will be extra important to make time for them, no matter what. Focus on creating space where you can be with your child. While it is great to weave in their favorite activities or special bonding opportunities, what is most essential here is just being together.

  • Take a walk and talk about daily happenings.
  • Watch a television show or movie together.
  • Do a craft.
  • Take a car ride and listen to the radio.
  • Have a backyard picnic with just you and the child whose love language this is.
  • Have them help you with a home project.
  • Play a card or board game.
  • Read together before bed.
  • Bake something.
  • Practice their favorite sport with them.
  • Teach them a fun game like hopscotch or kite flying.

Gifts

Those who identify with gift-giving as a love language need the visual representation of the emotion in the form of a gift. The gift doesn't have to be loud and flashy; it merely has to be symbolic of a human emotion far larger than the gift itself. Kids drawn to gift-giving are not self-centered humans who want expensive items. Rather, they appreciate the sentiment behind gift-giving, the time and thought a person puts into a gift, and how the entire process of selecting and giving a gift highlights the concept of caring for another human being.

Girl in restaurant receiving a birthday gift from her mother

Behaviors and Signs That Gifts Are Your Child's Love Language

When a child brings you a handful of flowers, makes you artwork at school during their free time, regifts beloved toys and books to you when your birthday rolls around, or is always quick to give you a precious rock, stick, or acorn, they might be gift-centric in their love language. They show you they are thinking of you specifically when they hand you these gifts. Even when the gifts are small and seem quite random, you can be sure that there was a thought process behind the selection. Just as they enjoy giving gifts, they also feel loved when receiving them.

Suggestions for Connecting With Your Child

Kids who gravitate to gift-giving appreciate meaningful gifts. They see that the things you give them are an extension of your love for them, and they tend to treasure the items you present to them. If your child falls under this love language category, get creative with how you show your affection.

  • Cook them their favorite dinner or treat.
  • Bring something home from the grocery store they will enjoy.
  • Give them a new box of markers and paper and create something together.
  • Pick them flowers.
  • Buy matching jammies.
  • Start a book club with your child. Purchase a copy for both you and them.

Once your child leaves the nest and enters the wonderful and wild world of adulting, you'll want to continue showering them with love... and well-thought-out gifts to keep your connection strong.

  • If they live far away, gift them a plane ticket home for their birthday or the holidays.
  • Send care packages to college kids or children away on active military duty.
  • Mail them a card to let them know you are thinking of them, and stick a gift card in it.
  • Send fuzzy socks or a warm blanket to your adult child in the cold months.
  • Take your adult child out to dinner once a month.

Acts of Service

One way people register love is to have things done for them. Adults who speak this love language feel cared for when their partners complete their "honey-do" list or when their loved ones help them complete tasks. Kids also gravitate to this love language, but they often look for parents to do things for them that they usually could manage.

Mother cutting her young son some melon at home in the kitchen

Behaviors and Signs That Acts of Service Are Your Child's Love Language

If your child knows how to get their own milk and tie their own shoes, but they are forever begging you to do it for them, this could be because acts of service are their preferred love language. If you don't understand and recognize this, it will be easy to write the behaviors off as lazy. Kids who feel cared for when parents perform tasks for them are NOT lazy; they simply feel safe, loved, and secure when their parents do things that directly benefit them.

Suggestions for Connecting With Your Child

Performing acts of service can sometimes make a parent feel as if they are enabling their child. To meet the love and communication needs of a child who speaks this love language, while feeling confident that you're not venturing into the enabling arena, try:

  • Cleaning your child's room with them.
  • Tying one shoe for your child, and then encouraging your child to try to tie the other.
  • Getting their dinner and their drink for them, but encourage them to put their dishes in the sink after dinner.
  • Helping them get dressed, but ask them to weigh in on the outfit choices.
  • Doing homework together.

Love Language for Adults Versus Children

It is important to note that the love languages remain similar for kids and adults, but how you show love will vary depending on the love relationship you are in. Expressing love to your child is obviously going to look vastly different from expressing love to a partner.

A Tale of Two Love Languages: Separating Yours From Your Child's

Taking the time to assess your child's love language can deepen your bond with them and help you understand your child more. It can bring the pair of you closer and can even shed light on concerning or perplexing behaviors that you once wrote off as naughty, but you now see meaning and intent behind. When working with love languages, it is important to remember that you and your child likely have different love languages. Be sure not to impose your love language on your child. Keying into another personal love language style can take time and effort, but the outcomes are ample, and the benefits gained by paying meticulous attention to who your child is are vast.

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What Is Your Child's Love Language? Decode and Reciprocate