“Who will play with me?”
“You’re NOT my friend!”
“Mommy, you never buy me ANY thing.”
If you hear these things a lot, your child might be running on empty. An empty ‘love tank’ that is.
Our kids are like little motor cars, and their hearts are their fuel tanks. With a full tank they have confidence to face new challenges and self-control to sit quietly or wait patiently; they are quick to obey and have resources to entertain themselves.
In short, a full love tank means everybody has a better day.
“Give me this magic potion so I too might have a better day!” I hear you say. No problem.
Thanks to Gary Champman’s “Five Love Languages” book, loving our kids (and our spouses) in the way that THEY need to be loved is very doable. Chapman explains that each of us has our own love language. We have a specific way that we receive love and give love.
I know you love your family. You pour yourself out for them. But there is a very strong likelihood that the members of your family have a different love language than you do, which means there’s the danger that at least one person in your family is not feeling as loved as they could.
Here’s how to fill up your child’s love tank, based on their love languages.
1. Words of Affirmation:
Signs of an empty tank: Sarcasm and nasty words.
Fix: Use specific praise like “I like how neatly you draw that picture,” or “I saw how kind you were to your friend, good job.” It goes a lot further than general praise like “You’re great”.
Firm favourite: “I love you”. Be brave and kick it up a gear with “I love you because…”
Tone is very important to a words person – a harsh word can be soul-destroying so, when reprimanding, ensure your tone is firm but kind.
2. Physical Touch:
Signs of an empty tank: Hitting and smacking.
Fix: Hugs, kisses, pat-a-cake, high fives, wrestling; physical touch at least once a day makes them feel loved and safe.
If this love language is hard for you to remember, make it easier by incorporating it into your daily routine, eg: before dropping them at school every day, give a big hug or a high five (if they are embarrassed by kisses) and send them on their way feeling loved and confident for the day’s challenges.
3. Acts of Service:
Signs of an empty tank: “Nobody helps me” or angry frustration when trying to do something and not getting it right (without help).
Fix: Helping them make the bed or cut that difficult shape, or pick up the spill, etc.
This love language often slips under the radar because it’s so part of our everyday routine. We make food, clean the house, take out the trash, dress the children, feed the dogs, but all of these things, to an acts of service person, means love.
4. Quality Time:
Signs of an empty tank: Clingy and needy with constant demands for attention. “You never spend time with me”.
Fix: Start the day right. Spend 10 minutes every morning just focused on them – build a puzzle, play with their dolls, read a book with them – eye contact and focused attention are their soul-food.
Signs of an empty tank: “You never buy me stuff”
This is a tricky one. You can’t afford to buy gifts every day, plus there’s the trap of “you can buy my love” that you want to avoid.
Fix: The saying “It’s the thought that counts” is especially true for gifts people. Encourage your gifts child to see the heart of the gift more than the price of the gift.
Eg: A pretty pebble you picked up on the beach while thinking of them or a flower that made you think of them lets them know they are loved.
Turn necessities into gifts of love by making them special, like laying out the new toothbrush and sponge they needed on their beds and telling them they have a small surprise on their beds. Keep it simple.
How does this look for us?
My kids are quality time and physical touch. I am words of affirmation and my husband is acts of service.
As you can see there are no overlaps, so we have to make a deliberate effort to reach out to the other people in the house in their own language. This is often how it looks at our house:
I’m on the floor building a puzzle with my quality time child and my physical touch child’s arms are around my neck as she lies on my back, watching the puzzle being built. Or this morning I was doing a puff paint craft with my quality time child while my touch child happily sat on my lap eating breakfast.
I wash the dishes (not normally an act of love for me, I assure you, but I do it because it makes his heart happy) and tell him, “I washed the dishes because I love you.” He smiles and says thank you.
While we’re bathing the kids he leans over and says, “Thanks for everything you do baby; you’re a great mom,” and I feel my tank filling up, and I feel I can go on a bit longer.
Do we always get it right? No, but it’s getting easier as we get fitter at the other person’s language.