Laying a foundation of emotional security for children is a daily responsibility for parents and other caring adults. In order to help kids “pay it forward” or “give back” in service to others, they first need to experience and understand love. The building blocks of empathy can then be expressed in acts of compassion.
For three decades, the idea of “5 love languages” has been woven into cultures, with 12 million books sold worldwide in 50 languages. I first heard this idea as a young adult, and a penny dropped. It was reassuring to hear that giving and receiving love could be experienced differently. The concept has been a helpful framework for relationships of all sorts, and especially in raising my kids.
Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell wrote a sequel book titled, “The 5 Love Languages® of Children,” to focus on the developmental needs of the youngest. To start, I appreciate that the authors emphasize that children need to experience love in all areas. According to the concept, we each have one or two primary ways in which we “feel” loved.
What’s a Love Language®?
The 5 Love Languages® are practical ways to demonstrate love. For children and teens, each of these languages may be felt and expressed differently based on age and developmental stage. Learning how each person understands love is important in mutual communication and building a strong relationship. In the case of children, we shouldn’t expect to identify their primary love language before the age of five—all types of love languages should be spoken.
❤ Physical Touch
❤ Words of Affirmation
❤ Quality Time
❤ Acts of Service
Understanding love is the beginning of emotional maturity and the root of empathy. We can better express love and share it when we feel it fully. Building emotional connections in relationships is very important.
As a child grows up, he or she can build language around feelings and begin to understand himself or herself. This self-awareness fosters insight into how others may feel or experience life. Building empathy is a core factor for any healthy relationship and interaction.
With The 5 Love Languages® in mind, how can you help your child gain emotional maturity, develop language for feelings, and begin to consider how others will feel loved (empathy)? This is a great framework for understanding how children can express their love or concern in service to others. Siblings or a group of children might view the same situation and respond differently, from the basis of their own preferred love language.
Do you have an idea of your children’s love languages? The 5 Love Languages® website hosts free quizzes for adults, teens, and children.Be sure to visit the site to take the quiz—special guidance is provided regarding younger children.
Our family had an interesting conversation when comparing the reports. Quality Time is at the top of our lists. Elena shared some reflections on how she makes a connection to service. “When given the opportunity to help people, quality time seems to me like the rewarding for both parties. There is so much to learn in this world – you can learn much through textbooks, experience, and age, but the kind of knowledge that just might be the most valuable is learning about the world through the eyes of others.”
Role-Play and Real World
Imagine a conversation following a weather disaster. Think about several children you know well. How do you think they would respond to the news? What might they ask about or have a deeper interest? Can you envision how each of them might be motivated to respond in compassion? How might a service project or spontaneous act of kindness be expressed in these love languages? You can role-play a conversation and observe their perspectives and responses.
It is so important to help children appropriately respond to what they care about. Look for ways in which children can express their love and concern for others, based on their primary love languages. Take time to listen to what is troubling to them and invite them to share how they would like to take action. Adults can take caution to not prescribe the service—showing compassion through words of affirmation will look different than acts of service.
Understanding our children’s love languages is one of the first steps in helping them on the journey of self-discovery. It is critical that they feel loved, and in turn, they can express love to others in these love languages.