Loving our children and families is sometimes not enough. Each of us has preferences for how we feel most loved. Relationship counselor Gary Chapman is the author of “The 5 Love Languages” series. “Love languages” include:
• Words of affirmation
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• Quality time
• Appropriate gifts
• Acts of service
• Physical touch
People respond to more than one type of expression, but usually there is one for which each has the strongest preference. Observing others can give you clues about their preferences. Often we express love to others in our own preferred way, but they still may not feel loved if their preferences differ.
Words of affirmation involve verbal appreciation of another person and acknowledging the other’s traits and importance. These include unconditional “I love you,” “I’m so glad you’re my son/daughter” statements, etc. Compliments and thanks fall into this category, as do encouraging words and praise.
Quality time involves spending time together in mindful presence, with thoughts and attention focused on each other. Important elements include sharing experiences, thoughts and ideas in conversation and really listening to what the other is saying. Sometimes the time is spent doing activities that are shared and enjoyed.
Appropriate gifts might be a person’s primary love language; receiving a thoughtfully chosen gift may be important to her or him. Gifts chosen should match the person’s interests. For instance, a person who enjoys reading may enjoy a new book or book light more than an expensive bracelet. Appropriate gifts range in cost from expensive to free, and they do not need to be given every day. The most important element is the thought given to what the other likes.
Acts of service sometimes are the things that most mean love to a person. Receiving help with routine chores, errands or repairs often means more than being given a tangible item. When these acts are freely given because they are things that the other person needs and values, they are most suitable. Sometimes parents believe they show love by the meals they prepare when a child would feel more love by receiving quality time. Involving the child as a sous chef might be a way to move more toward this child’s preferred direction.
Physical touch may be the primary love language for an adult or child. A sincere hug or a back rub may mean more than other things. The preferred touch should match a person’s preference and can be playful or loving. When one values touch and another finds it irritating, communicating preferences is important to try to reach an acceptable balance.
Some people can immediately identify their preferred love languages and others might have to think about it for a while. To identify your child’s preference, make a few observations:
• Does he look most happy when you give him a gift or when you do something together?
• What is upsetting to your child? When you get rid of a drawing she made? A broken parent/child plan?
• Or just ask, “How do you know I love you?”