Having been a father now for 30+ years and experiencing the individual personalities of our five children, I can say with some authority that, at least in our family, each of our children has been a distinct individual with a personality all his own. One of the things I noted several years ago was that each of children had to be shown love in a way which was also very individual - they speak individual "love languages.".
For example, one daughter received love best when dad or mom gave her a very personalized gift—it could be a note, a set of gel pens or a t-shirt, but she knew she was loved when someone gave her something. Our fourth child, a boy who is newly married and in college, knows he is loved when a parent spends time with him—camping, going for ice cream or just sitting and listening. Trying to use the technique that worked for one child with the other would have been useless.
Several years ago, I read what was for me a life changing book, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Chapman put into words the feelings about the experiences I have had with children and with my partner over the years. Like my own sense, Chapman explained that each person receives the message of love through one of five love languages. The key is trying to find out the love language for each of your loved ones and then communicating your love to them in their language.
Chapman's five love languages are:
- Words of Affirmation: In this language, people need to hear compliments; to be “stroked” by the words of others.
- Quality Time: People who hear love by quality time know they are loved when people spend time with them—listening, walking, talking, going on trips.
- Physical Touch: People who hear love in this way need to be touched; hugged, sitting close together, back rubs, and such. I recently attended a parade, and along the sideline of the parade were three young female adults walking along with a sign, “Free Hugs.” These were physical touch people.
- Receiving Gifts: Like my daughter, people who speak this love language need to receive thoughtful and personal gifts—not necessarily expensive, but individual.
- Acts of Service: With this love language, people hear love through others giving them acts of service—making the bed, cleaning the bathroom, doing a chore that they dislike.
When my wife and I read the book, we concluded very quickly that I receive love through words of affirmation; she hears it through quality time. For us, the conclusions were clear and enlightening. But for children, they probably would not be able to tell you about their love language. After all, it is a pretty abstract concept. So how do you know which love language works for your child, and how do you use that knowledge to better communicate love to them?
Chapman suggests that we try all five and see what sticks. But he also recommends that we watch how they show love to others to see what language works for them. For example, if your child is constantly doing little things for others, it is safe to try to use the acts of service language. If you have a child who wants to come jump in your lap and cuddle, physical touch is likely their principle love language.
So try to be observant and pay attention to how they best respond.
Given these love languages, what would be some things that would work for a father who wants to speak his child's love language?
If your child has Words of Affirmation as his primary love language, criticism cuts deep. If you need to correct him, be specific as to what you want him or her to change, but make sure you include positive and loving words. Compliment your child often; find opportunities to say positive things to him and about him to others.
For those children who hear love through Quality Time, there is no good alternative to spending time together. Go on a walk, to the gym, or on a car ride. When she asks you to take her somewhere or come see something she has been working on, make the effort to do it and make it a priority.
Children who receive love through Physical Touch will appreciate cuddle time—maybe a story, singing songs together, or just sitting close watching a movie or playing a game. Boys who appreciate physical touch will enjoy a little wrestling match. When they get a little older, the same physical approaches may not work or may be uncomfortable. But an occasional hug, a touch on their shoulder or arm, or a pat on the back will be appropriate.
If your child receives love through Receiving Gifts, consider the occasional card, a balloon bouquet left in a school locker or putting a treat in their school backpack. Make sure you express your love verbally or in writing with the gift. This can be overdone and thus become meaningless, but remembering his or her love language with occasional and personal gifts will create good loving experiences.
Children who have Acts of Service as a love language will best appreciate your doing little things for them. If they dislike doing the dishes, get up and do the dishes, and tell her that you love her while you do it. If she has a special interest, learn more about it so you can participate with her. Anything that is a sacrifice of time on your part will be a loving message.
Finding and learning to speak love in your child's primary love language will go a long way to helping them feel that their father loves them and makes them a priority in his life. So learn what makes your child feel loved, and then watch your relationship with them grow as you practice that specific love language.