Love: Discovering Your Child's Love Language

Love: Discovering Your Child’s Love Language

More than likely, you've heard of the books, The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages of Children, which detail the breakthrough principles of love languages. A love language is the way each person expresses and receives love.

In this episode of the Solo Parent podcast, hosts Robert, Elizabeth, and Amber discuss how we as busy single parents can use the love language principles as an effective parenting tool.

The Five Love Languages

Physical Touch
This is making physical contact in an intentional way with your child. It could be as simple as your kid walking by and wanting a high five, a fist bump, a pat on the back, or something similar. It could be sitting next to each other when you're watching a movie. 

Words of Affirmation
This is giving encouragement. It's not overdoing it, telling your child he is the most amazing thing that ever happened to the earth. It’s healthy encouragement when you’re throwing a ball together, saying “I can tell you’ve been working on your throw.”

Quality Time  
Quality time is undivided attention—not staring at your phone while you are sitting on the couch together. It’s throwing a ball or watching a movie together. It's looking into each other's eyes, asking questions. 

This one is more obvious, but it's not my child who loves to get gifts, it's how they handle the gifts after they get them. If they treasure it, they put it somewhere, or they're talking to people about it. They're telling others they never want to get rid of it. They never want to lose it. It means something to them for a long time. 

It can also mean little things. It’s the thoughtfulness behind the gift that is the real component of the gifts love language. It could be a candy bar you picked up at the store for no reason. “I was at the store and I saw this candy bar that I know you love. I thought I’d pick it up for you for no reason.” 

Acts of Service 
This can be helping with homework. This can be picking up clothes, it can be taking the load off of someone else, or taking responsibilities off of their plate so they feel less stressed. 

As single parents, it's important to know our love languages too. What are some ways that we can fill the cups of our love languages outside of the home?

If your love language is quality time, then really finding ways to invest in your relationships, even while being a single parent is going to be important. You need to feel really filled up and have something to give. You need quality time with other adults, maybe at our Solo Parent groups or with a neighborhood group, whatever it is, making sure that your need for quality time is coming from a source other than your kids so that you stay in the parent role and they get to be kids. 

Why is it so important to fill our cups outside of the home?

It’s important because our kids need to be able to stay in the role of kids—dependent on us and we meet their needs. It's not their job to meet ours. Our needs are our responsibility to have them filled in healthy ways with other adults. When we start to look to our kids to fill all those places for us, it just sets us up for an unhealthy dynamic. And it places too much pressure on them, whether spoken or unspoken. Our kids will feel and absorb that. And it just messes up the parental dynamic. 

How do we discover our kids’ love language?

Pay attention to how they are showing you love in their natural human way. And it may not be how you need love, but guess what? They're giving it to you in the way they know how, and that's what matters. So pay attention to that.

What is an example of operating out of our own love languages, which may not be our kid's languages?

One example is when we prioritize other things, like household chores, over connecting with them through their love language like quality time or words of affirmation.

What are the primary benefits of understanding your kids' love languages?

One benefit is helping them build emotional intelligence. The more they're able to receive each of those five love languages makes kids better equipped to continue to notice and recognize and receive love in multiple ways. They're not bankrupt as they're growing and developing into adults. In each of these five languages, if they experience it, then they can also act it out later in their relationships. 

The Five Love Languages of Teenagers book talks about how it increases motivation for learning. It increases social ability with their peers. It’s a crucial part of helping them develop their own conscience and moral judgments. When they feel filled up, they're able to make better decisions. The benefits go beyond our bond with them as parents. It helps them become well-rounded healthy human beings. 

Replenishing connection is another primary benefit. For example, as soon as they get out of school hug them because they've had the safety broken, they've been in the craziness of being around teachers who maybe don't care about all the dynamics, can't provide them with love, other kids around them, whether bullies or not, they're depleted by the time they get home from school. And so, especially up to age 10, as soon as they get out of school, wrap your arms around them and hug them tight and hold them.

How do we find their love languages? What are some practical ways for us to start unpacking what these love languages are?

A big part of it is being curious. Go on an investigative mission noticing what seems to be the opposite. For example, if you accidentally are harsh in your words and they really take it to heart even more than you might expect, even after repair, this could be a hint that their love language is words of affirmation. Another example is if they seem to get really angry with you when you have neglected to go toss the ball with them and spend that quality time, then pay attention. This could be the clue that it’s a significant need for them that's unique to them. Notice their response to what they don't have and pay attention because that might indicate their love language.

An example, of the physical touch love language, is if they're always finding ways to touch you, cuddling with you on the couch is a sign that what they're needing at that moment, or maybe it's their primary is physical touch. 

An example of the words of affirmation love language is if they're seeking affirmation from you, always asking “What do you think about this?” “Do you think I did a good job?” These questions are clues. 

Notice the questions they ask. Notice how they're demonstrating love to you and then notice the impact of receiving a certain love language. 

What about tips for spending quality time with our kids? This is extra hard for single parents.

Uninterrupted time is scarce for a single parent but it can be created. We do have a lot to juggle so there are going to be times when something else is distracting us. What’s important is to create a safe relationship with our kids so that when we do slip up they feel comfortable letting us know.

It’s also hard to give our undivided attention. Laundry, work, dishes—all the things that have to get done, while our child wants us to pay attention to them is a big challenge. The best thing we can do is eliminate distractions—put our phones away or on silent mode. 

Another tip is to make eye contact when your kids walk into a room. If you’re working on your computer or doing a household chore, stop for 30 seconds and give your attention. If you can give an immediate response, take the time to do it, if you can’t let your child know you need more time, that you need to finish what you are doing and then you can respond. 

The short amount of time—30 seconds—will demonstrate that they're a priority to you. Enough that you'll turn away from something else toward them. 

And finally, be encouraged that being intentional by discovering and speaking our kids’ love languages will create more efficiency and effectiveness with our time and communication. 

Do our kids’ love languages change as they get older?  

Yes. Kids up to about age 10, they’re still growing and developing so they may demonstrate multiple love languages or flip-flop. It’s also important to note with kids ages 10 and younger that author Gary Chapman says physical touch should never stop. Physical touch is the primary need for every single child from the time they're born. 

Are there some pitfalls that we need to look out for as we're trying to identify what our kids’ love languages are?  

One of the pitfalls is don't let them know that you're learning about love languages because they will use them against you and manipulate you and especially in the gifts arena, so, keep this a secret. Don't let them know much about this. Don't really talk to them about it. It's not what they need. What they need is for you to show them.

Another pitfall can be using discipline against their love language. We don't want to discipline our kids in a way that they primarily receive love. For a child whose love language is words of affirmation, harsh words would not work. For a child whose love language is quality time sending him off to his room could be ineffective and maybe damaging. 

What are the blind spots that single parents might have related to speaking their kids' love languages? 

Recognize that if you are the primary caregiver for your kids that your children are receiving their love from you as their primary source. And so just being aware of that makes it even more critical and important to be effective and to be reaching them specifically with their love language because they're likely only getting it from you. 

And then conversely, if you are not the primary caregiver, particularly for non-custodial parents, there's something extra to think about because you may not have as much time with your kids. And so the time that you have with them, you really need to maximize. Go beyond meeting their needs. Presence is significant. It takes discipline in trying to discover this. Give yourself some grace.

Sometimes as single parents, our guilt will blindside us. We may think we have to pour into our kids in every kind of way to compensate for all the hurt. It's very real. We think that we're making things better for our kids but sometimes, it isn't best for them to get every need or itch scratched. Sometimes they need resilience and to experience responsibility as well.

Pain, grief, and loss may blindside us. We have to remember the pain, grief, and loss our children have experienced especially after a divorce or death of a parent, they're operating from a deficit. Help them through the grief process, help them through their anger, their denial, and all the things that come with it. Know that unfortunately our kids are operating from a deficit and it's our responsibility to love them well so that they can heal.

We might be blindsided by the other parent. We can try to be a bridge for our kids to the other parent by helping to inform the other parent of things you see and your kids' needs that are beneficial for them to know too so that you both can be as effective as possible. 

Thinking we are the only ones our kids can receive love from can blindside us. It’s important to seek out and have a community around our children. Sharing this information with those people too, whether it's grandparents, people at church, or others, sharing our kids' love language can help them get filled up by other people. It doesn't all have to be on you. Allow other people into that process of your child’s healing. 


Take care of yourself first.

Know your own love languages and make sure that you're getting those cups filled outside the home.

Don't assume our kids are experiencing love the way we intend. Kids receive love in different ways. So be curious, do research, get the book, take the quizzes, whatever it is you need to do. Be curious about this.

Start now. No judgment. We don't need to fix all the past. We need to consistently anchor our approach moving forward based on their love language. 

Don’t do this to try to create a feel-good experience. We need to look at the long game. We need to measure this. We’ll know we're succeeding if we see their relationships outside of us changing like when they show empathy and their communication skills are improving. 

Listener Question
The question is, “How do I overcome the fear of rejection by new people and reach out to others during my difficult years?”

It's a big question, but we've all experienced this. It’s terrifying whether you're an extrovert or an introvert because it’s brand new and it’s the unknown. The best advice we can give you is to do it for your kids because we’ll do anything for our kids. Taking care of yourself, finding community, and reaching out to people in these difficult years is the best way you can serve your kids. Reframe it as “I'm going to seek health for the benefit of my child.” We know this is uncomfortable. 

It won’t take away all of the fear. It’s okay not to completely overcome the fear. You may need to accept the fear and know that you will feel nervous around new people and new experiences. And so normalize it. It's okay to be scared. Because the reward is worth it. Being in a community like our Solo Parent groups and feeling seen, being known, and having a place to be understood and accepted is worth it.

The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman

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