I have often teased that between the number of Gary Chapman’s books that I have purchased to give away and the number of times I have suggested that someone buy his marriage and parenting resources, I have probably helped purchase his family’s home. His material on the five languages of love is a part of my life and my communication vocabulary.
In his book The Five Love Languages, Chapman explains that we all have emotional and love tanks, and he describes excellent communication as keeping other people’s tanks full. We help keep them full by using the love languages that are most meaningful to them. When we help keep our spouse’s and our family’s tanks full, we will communicate well and have healthy relationships with them. If we gamble with our family and spouse by keeping those tanks near empty, communication is much more difficult.
The five love languages Chapman identifies are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. He says that most of us have a primary love language and perhaps a strong secondary love language, although all of them can be important for good communication and healthy relationships.1
Let’s look at the five ways to express love and to communicate, and then let’s try to figure out which primary love language will fill your children’s tanks, as well as your spouse’s.
- Words of affirmation. In training our children, we tend to criticize failure. If overdone, this can create devastating consequences in adult life. Determine to praise your child for every right thing done during the next week. A minimum of two compliments a day is a good goal.
- Quality time. Get down to your child’s level. Discover his or her interests and learn as much about him or her as possible. Be totally present, giving your child undivided attention. Make time each day to give your child (or each of your children) at least a few minutes of quality time. Make it a priority.
- Receiving gifts. Gifts, if overdone, can become meaningless and teach a child a false set of values. But periodic gifts, thoughtfully chosen and given with affirming statements such as, “I love you, so I got a special gift for you,” can help meet a child’s need for love. The next time you buy or make your child a gift, express your love verbally as you present the gift. (You may also express your love as you refuse to give your child something you think is inappropriate: “I love you, so I will not buy you a rattlesnake for a pet.”)
- Acts of service. Though you constantly perform acts of service for your children, the next time you complete a task especially meaningful to your child make sure that you say it means you love him or her. Pick a task that is not especially appealing to you but that is very important to your child. Learn a new skill in the academic or mechanical area to become a more well-rounded parent.
- Physical touch. Hugging, kissing and appropriate touching are very important for a child’s emotional tank. Consider the age, temperament, love language, etc., of each child and determine a unique approach in this area. When your child gets older, you will need to be sensitive, but you should still maintain a regular habit of touching for affirmation.2
As you discover your child’s primary love language, focus on using it regularly—but do not neglect the other four. The others will be even more meaningful once you are speaking your child’s primary language.
Now ask yourself, Which of these communication love languages meets my primary need? How about the primary needs of my spouse and children? Practice filling the love tank of each family member by communicating in his or her love language.