I wasn’t a hugger as a kid. This is evident in a picture taken of me at age four with my mom. She has her arm around me, ready to take a sweet mother-daughter photo, except I’m standing there stiffly uninterested. It’s actually a cute shot, but my body language makes it clear that physical contact just isn’t my thing.
I recently discovered The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and at the back of the book is a quiz that helps you determine your preferred method of emotional communication. Chapman explains how understanding a person’s primary method for experiencing love can help deepen your relationship with them. Once you’ve completed the quiz, which is also available online, you’ll have a better understanding of what your love languages are in order of most relevant to least.
Here’s a breakdown of how each love language works:
1. Words of affirmation
This is when someone needs to hear positive vocal sentiments confirming they’re needed and wanted. With kids, there are tons of ways you can satisfy those needs. Saying thank you when they do something for you, complimenting them and saying you’re happy to see them are easy ways to boost their confidence.
2. Receiving gifts
It’s no secret kids love gifts, but some might like them more than others. If this worries you, try not to assume it means greediness. It also means simple things can make them feel loved, like a handwritten note in their lunch bag, receiving stickers or packing a favourite granola bar. Small, meaningful gestures go a long way.
3. Acts of service
For some, actions speak louder than words. People who speak this language appreciate when nice things are done for them out of love, not obligation. For example, you could help your kid with their homework, do a chore with them or even decide to go with their pick for movie night.
4. Quality time
Quality time means being with someone without distractions. Easy things, like putting your phone down and having face-to-face time, go a long way. Get to know your kid and talk about your respective days. If they don’t want to talk, play a game instead. Your full, undivided attention is what they’re seeking.
5. Physical touch
You probably already have an idea whether or not this is your kid’s dominant outlet for affection. Hugs, kisses, high-fives and pats on the back are easy ways to reassure kids of your love. When appropriate, a loving touch can indicate comfort, warmth and reassurance.
I asked my three kids what love means to them—here’s what they saidWhile taking the quiz as an adult is pretty simple, kids may not be able to fully articulate their feelings yet. One of the most direct ways to determine their love language is to spend time with them one-on-one and follow their lead, says Tricia van Rhijn, an associate professor of family relations and human development at the University of Guelph. Whether you’re giving each other a gift, having a positive conversation or just hanging out, try to pay attention to cues and get to know what makes them tick. The more you know about their school day or what they like to do with their friends, the easier it will be to recognize characteristics that pertain to a certain love language. You should encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences, but don’t be pushy.
“Giving them an opportunity to talk rather than forcing them to can make a big difference,” van Rhijn says. By starting this routine early, it will help kids be more willing to express their feelings as they get older.
If your kid doesn’t want to talk, try getting them to open up during other activities, such as playing a game or helping with chores, or ask them to draw a picture of some ways parents love their children. Avoid guiding them in this task and try to let the work speak for itself. If you do this often, the repetition in their answers will help you assess where they fit in.
Another way to determine your kid’s love language is to give them choices when deciding what to do together. For example, ask if they’d rather go to the mall and buy something they need or help you make dinner. Each option should apply to a different way of connecting so their choice can provide insight into their preferred love language.
Van Rhijn suggests kids’ misbehaviour may also be connected to their love language. She urges parents to be compassionate when kids act out. Understanding where they’re coming from emotionally in that moment may give perspective on the why they’re having an outburst.
Developing the connection
Van Rhijn says learning to connect with your kid is about building a long-term relationship, and it can be easy to forget this when you’re in the throes of everyday life. For example, if you’ve determined your kid’s love language is quality time, try to avoid distractions that prevent that intimate bond from developing.
“If your phone beeps in the middle of doing something with them and you check it, you’re telling them your phone is more important than they are,” van Rhijn says. Reminding yourself of how high quality time ranks for your kid and making individual attention a priority will help create a more meaningful bond.
As an adult, my love language hasn’t changed much. I’m still reluctant with physical affection, which can come across as being rude or distant. But having taken the quiz, I now understand that physical touch doesn’t rank high for me as a language, and quality time is what I value most. For me, nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention. And it makes sense when I think back and realize it was never the hello or goodbye hug I looked forward to as a kid, but the time spent in between.