How to Speak the 5 Love Languages—With Your Kid

Haven’t we all left a copy of The Five Love Languages on our partner’s side of the bed at some point?—or maybe that’s just me. According to the book’s author, Gary Chapman, the five love languages are: physical affection, acts of service, words of praise, quality time, and receiving gifts.

While you might hope to come home to flowers, your partner might prefer you volunteer to do the dishes to show you care. According to Chapman, the key to a healthy relationship is for each person to express love in their partner’s preferred love language, instead of their own.

Chapman says this concept applies to children, too. According to child therapist Megan Cronin Larson, a child’s primary love language typically emerges around age three or four. While you can respond to cues from your child to figure out what their love language is, in The 5 Love Languages of Children, Chapman encourages parents to use all five love languages with their children, in order to lay a healthy foundation for future relationships. 

Physical Affection

Research shows that touch is vital to healthy neurodevelopment in infants. But the need for touch—whether a hug or a fist bump—doesn’t end with infancy. Physical affection lets kids know you care, and that you will listen when they’re ready to talk. But what if your child’s love language is touch and you’re not a big hugger? Licensed psychotherapist and play therapist Brenna Hicks recommends parents, “keep the physical touch small, but consistent. [It] can be as simple as placing your hand on a child’s shoulder as you pass by, rubbing their head a few times on the couch, or giving them a quick kiss on the forehead. It isn’t necessarily long bear hugs.”

Try These Ideas
• Let them sit on your lap while you read to each other.
• Give them a back rub
• Put the couch cushions on the floor and have a silly wrestling match.
• Pamper them with a spa-style hair wash.
• Hold hands.
• Invite them to snuggle while watching a movie.

Acts of Service

As parents, our lives are a never-ending blur of acts of service. How can we possibly do more? And why should we? There is a difference between responding to rapid-fire requests for snacks and help with school projects versus setting your phone aside, making eye contact, and offering to help, or taking time to do something extra-special for your kid. 

Try These Ideas
• Offer to fix a broken toy.
• Bring them breakfast in bed.
• Cook their favorite meal.
• Cut their sandwiches into fun shapes.
• Give them a manicure.

Words of Affirmation

Research shows we aren’t actually helping when we tell our kids they’re great at everything. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use praise to connect with them in a meaningful way; rather, we should be deliberate about what we say. Parents should strive to acknowledge the effort, not the outcome. For example, instead of saying, “Nice job!” when your kid comes down the slide, you could say, “I noticed how hard you worked to get up the ladder.”

Try These Ideas
• Acknowledge how hard they are working on something specific.
• Say, “I love you.”
• Tell them three things you admire about them.
• Ask if they know how lucky you feel that you get to be their parent!
• “Catch them” being good. “You were an awesome listener at the park.”

Quality Time

Experts agree play is the optimum way to engage in quality time with young children. Hicks says, “[kids] use play as their language and toys as their words. By playing with them, you learn more about them and meet their need for someone to share in their experience.” By adolescence, kids are no longer interested in playing. They are often busy with school, friends, and activities. Jen Harrison, mom of busy twin teens, tries to focus completely on them in the rare moments they are together—and that often happens in the car, which she describes as, “our best quality time.”

Try These Ideas
• Play hide and seek.
• Engage in pretend play.
• Go to the library together.
• Enjoy the outdoors together by walking, hiking, or biking.
• Bake together. Younger kids can helping pour and mix.
• Have a dance party!

Receiving Gifts

As with the other love languages, the importance of the gift is not the gift itself, but the intention behind it. As Hicks explains, “You can feel very confident that a gift need not cost money or be extravagant for your child to appreciate the extension of love.”

Try These Ideas
• Surprise them with a homemade card or drawing.
• Inscribe and gift your old copy of a book you enjoyed at their age.
• Find an accessory or a piece of clothing you no longer wear and give it to your kids as a dress-up item.
• Buy and gift small things that make you think of them.
• Build something for them if you aren’t super handy. 

No matter what love language you “speak” with your kid, Larson reminds us that our full presence is the greatest gift we can give our kids. So, put your phone down and connect with your kids—on Valentine’s Day and every day.