How to Understand Your Child's Love Languages
Updated: Jan 7
When I was pregnant with my first child about seven years ago, my mother gifted me the book The Five Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman. I discounted the urgency of reading it because I previously read and loved the original version of what is now a series of resources, simply called, The Five Love Languages. I wrongfully assumed that since I knew and understood the premise of each of the love languages, I was covered regarding that topic. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Over the years I had the intention of reading it, but it was just one in a stack of many books on my “to-read” list.
On a whim, and on the rare occasion that I was traveling by plane alone and without children in tow, I threw it in my carry-on and headed off on my journey. Little did I know just how impactful that one small choice would be on me both personally and professionally. I began reading the book on my flight to my destination, and was well over halfway through it by the time I landed. I could not put it down. By the time I arrived home on my return flight, I had finished the book and was in awe. I couldn’t wait to practice the concepts and share with people what I had learned. I will share some of the core concepts that I took away from this book with you here.
First, it is essential to understand what love languages are. The most important thing to recognize is that we typically show or demonstrate or communicate love to others in our primary or secondary love languages, and, in turn, we look for love in the same way. Why does this matter? Because it lies at the root of so many miscommunications, and misperceptions, about feeling that we are loved or not loved. It is also necessary to distinguish between knowing and feeling that we are loved.
Secondly, the author Gary Chapman and his co-author Ross Campbell, a childhood behavioral expert, liken a child’s “emotional love tank” to how a car runs. Just like a car needs fuel, a child needs love to function at his or her optimal level. Rightfully so, when children are hungry, sick, tired, etc., they are not functioning at their best and therefore we often see a spike in negative behaviors. Before we can guide/train/discipline children, we need to ensure they are operating with a full “tank.”
Along the same lines, if we try to run a machine without oil, it may appear to be working for awhile but will end in disaster. By responding appropriately and filling a child’s love tank, the pressure is removed and it is unnecessary for the child to continue testing that adult’s love. Keep in mind that the love we use to fill our children’s tanks must be unconditional love, which equates to REAL love. Unconditional love is a full love that accepts and affirms a child for who he/she is, not for what he/she does. Therefore the love is not withheld based on actions, but rather freely given. This does not mean we like or agree with all of the child’s behaviors. This provision of unconditional love sets the stage for a child to receive parental guidance without resentment.
The five love languages featured in The 5 Love Languages of Children are:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
Of note, this book is an easy read, not full of psychobabble and therefore relevant and connectable for all people, not just those in the helping profession. It is full of real-life examples of people who have seen the changes they are hoping for by investing effort in these small things, with a big impact. There are multiple ideas on how to incorporate each of the love languages with your own children, or children you may work with, and how to understand them more clearly.
This book is a tool, and a resource, and truly covers all angles of such an important concept. Since reading this book in 2016, I have done multiple trainings on the love languages for children to my counseling staff, gifted and/or recommended this book to multiple families, and referenced the concepts in more conversations than I can count. I believe this book represents the crux of so many issues we face in our homes, with our children, all over the world. Reading this book can provide the foundation, or at the very least a starting point, on how to address behavioral and emotional challenges that arise. Don’t just take my word for it – I recommend reading it for yourself and adopting the practices in this book, then share it with the world!
Laura Santos, LCSW, is a clinical supervisor with the Therapeutic Day Treatment program. She has 12+ years of experience working with children, adolescents, and families. Laura is fluent in Spanish and is passionate about working with Latino families in order to provide a much-needed resource beyond the language barrier. Laura is a dedicated employee whose strengths include building relationships and utilizing those relationships in both business and counseling to promote positive growth. Laura finds a positive attitude and sense of humor to be helpful tools in navigating life challenges. She loves to spend time with her family, read, travel and try new experiences.