Have you given your child a hug only to have them wriggle away with a frown? Or have you spent hours choosing a gift for your teen only to see them put it away without giving it much thought? It can be mind-boggling when children or teens do not respond in a way we expect. If you have more than one child, it is confusing when you realise that something that means a lot to one holds little significance for the other.
Growing up in a traditional Asian family where love is rarely expressed in the form of hugs or words of affirmation, there were moments when I wondered if my parents even loved me. As I grew older, I realised that my parents did love me, except that they express it differently. Instead of words of affirmation, it was a smile whenever I did well in school, or treats from the supermarket. It is through these acts of service such as a ride to school that made me realised how much my parents love me. But why did my ungrateful younger self think otherwise?
According to Gary Chapman, parents struggle to express love or connect meaningfully because they are not speaking the love language of their children (Chapman & Campbell, 2012). To express love in a tangible and meaningful way involves understanding what their children’s love languages truly are. When parents learn to speak their children’s love language, they will feel appreciated and become more cooperative. If you are wondering what your child’s love language is, try taking this quiz: children /teens to find out what their dominant type is.
Here are the 5 love languages:
While a certain love language might be particularly meaningful, it is important to demonstrate love in all five ways. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Words of Affirmation – Use a descriptive praise when you see you child/teen doing something you approve of. Be specific about the value and behaviour. e.g. “I like the way you helped me carry the groceries without prompting.” “You are a helpful and thoughtful child.”
Send them an electronic message of affirmation or leave a ‘LIKE’ on their social media post.
Say positive things about them and let them overhear it.
Quality Time – Set aside uninterrupted time for them.
Go for a walk or jog with them.
Read a story or watch a movie with them.
Go on a ‘date’ with them. (e.g., shopping, watch a movie or visit a new café together)
Gifts – Consider what gifts they like.
Buy their favourite treat from the supermarket.
Leave an unexpected gift (e.g., stationery, snack) in their school bag.
Send them a special delivery.
Acts of Service – Consider their requests.
Help them fix a toy, clothes, or bag.
Support them in their hobby/skills.
Send them to school or pick them up when you know they had a long day.
Give them a hug or kiss or pat on the back.
Play contact sports/games with them (e.g., nerf guns).
Comb their hair or help them style it.
While Chapman believes that the love language of most children will stabilise at thirteen years of age, we need to adjust the way we express their primary love language as they grow older. For example, if your teen’s love language is Physical Touch, he may feel awkward with hugs now when he previously used to love them. It does not mean that he does not value physical touch, but you must now express ‘physical touch’ differently—try a fist bump or a pat on the back. These touches communicate that you love him. Likewise, a child who basks in praise may become sceptical and might just benefit from a little quality time with you instead. Most importantly, parents need to let them know that we love them and simply be there for them. So, continue to tune into your child’s reactions and behaviours and you will be able to continue connecting meaningfully with them.
Written by: Poh Ee Lyn, Senior Social Worker, Fei Yue Community Services
Chapman, G., & Campbell, R. (2012). Five Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
Northfield Publisher. (2021). Retrieved from The Five Love Languages : https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/