Knowing Your Child’s Love Language Can Be The Difference Between A Good Relationship And A Great One

Fortune Well February 1, 2024


Knowing Your Child’s Love Language Can Be The Difference Between A Good Relationship And A Great One

The five love languages is a concept first coined by marriage counselor and author Gary Chapman. The idea is that we all give and receive love in different ways—physical touch, acts of service, quality time, words of affirmation and receiving gifts—but tend to identify with one in particular. 

Understanding how someone shows love or appreciation—and what they need to feel loved and appreciated—can help foster positive communication in romantic relationships, but also between partners, friends, coworkers and even between parents and children. 

Licensed marriage and family therapist Karen Ruskin uses love languages with her clients, and stresses to them the importance of focusing on what the other person needs, not just what comes natural for you.

“Our most comfortable way of giving is how we actually want to receive, because it’s what our needs are,” Ruskin says. “But that might not register with someone else.”

Helen Neale, a mom and counselor based in the U.K., says realizing children can and will communicate love differently from their parents can be a “game changer.” 

“[Using love languages] isn’t about trying to squeeze the way someone shows love into specific boxes, it is about looking at them and really seeing them,” Neale tells Fortune.

Mastering your child’s love language can increase your understanding of them and their needs, and in turn, improve your relationship, experts say. Here’s how.

Find what resonates with them

Ruskin suggests her clients ask themselves these questions: “Am I giving the way my child—regardless of their age—is going to feel loved? Or am I giving in a way I’m wishing I would receive, because it makes me feel good by proxy?”

If the answers aren’t clear, it may be time to start implementing shifts in how you communicate your feelings or care with your child. Ruskin recommends trying out different ways love languages could show up in your child’s life to see what resonates best with them and you, especially because love languages are malleable.

Exploring what a child’s love language is or isn’t can be a tedious process, but Ruskin says a good way to start is by putting it on a calendar. 

“Just like you would put appointments on the calendar, utilize it as a way to start making shifts that you can track,” Ruskin said. 

One day, for example, show your child gratitude by taking them to their favorite restaurant. A few days later, try watching a movie you both enjoy together. At the end of the week, ask them what they appreciated more. 

“It’s about positive reinforcement and progression, not perfection,” Ruskin says.

Kids may have more than one love language

Cassie Brooks, a mom and children’s author, doesn’t believe people have just one love language, so she uses all five with her eight-year-old son.

“It’s a combination of all of them that nurtures my child and builds him up,” Brooks says.

She shows him she’s proud of him, both by telling him and by giving him small gifts, which she says encourages him to continue to work hard. She spends quality time with playing games, or by taking him on special dates with just the two of them.

“To see the way he lights up fills me up so much,” Brooks says.

She fulfills the language of physical touch by hugging him before and after school, sitting close to him while they watch TV when he asks her to, and by kissing his forehead before bed. As for acts of service, she helps him study.

If her son expresses to her a way he wants her to show up, Brooks says she does her best to comply.

“They [love languages] are all important for the overall well-being for my son to know that he is safe, loved, and feels confident and supported in who he chooses to be,” she says. 

Adjust with your child

Like personalities change, so can a child’s or parent’s needs. Just because something worked yesterday, does not mean it will work tomorrow. “We are not stagnant. We have different needs at different times in our lives,” Ruskin says.

Parents should ask themselves, “What are my needs? What are my child’s needs now?”

“It can be hard to adjust and adapt, but do you want to continue to grow your relationship, or do you want it to not grow?” Ruskin says.

Love languages also might look different for neurodivergent parents and kids. Being in a room together and not speaking might seem like rejection for some, but that could be a neurodivergent child’s take on quality time, and they might really love it. Communication, when possible, can be the difference between mistaking a positive moment for discomfort.

Though they aren’t one-size-fits-all, understanding love languages could be impactful to growing relationships. Still, love languages, like relationships, are often trial-and-error. They evolve, sometimes as quickly as children grow, but knowing what works and what doesn’t can help fulfill your child’s needs and improve your relationship.

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