Thursday, February 12, 2009

What is Your Child/Teen's Love Language?

After finishing “The Five Love Languages” for couples, I immediately headed over to to see if there was any possibility the author, Gary Chapman Ph.D. could have written a book for children. To my surprise (and delight) I discovered Dr. Chapman has written several of these books for different sorts of relationships. The two that immediately caught my attention were the ones for teens as well as children (the latter co-authored with Ross Campbell, M.D.). I ordered both immediately. If there was any way to help me better express my love to my children, as well as the youth I work with at church, I was more than willing to try.

I should first point out that the five love languages – Gifts, Quality Time, Acts of Service, Physical Touch, and Words of Affirmation – do not change from book to book. What does differ is the way in which we utilize these simple yet powerful tools.

Perhaps the aspect to loving our children that surprised me the most was until about the age of five children require all of the love languages. They typically don’t show a preference for one over any of the others. For the most part giving these acts of love don’t require a lot of effort. Dr. Chapman brings up the example of how we are with babies. We change their diapers, provide shelter and clothes, and feed and hold them (gifts/acts of service/physical touch). We coo loving words at them (words of affirmation), and practically fight for their attention (quality time).

As they get older we begin to teach them how to care for themselves, but still provide each of the love languages in spades. It’s not until around the age of five that we might see a preference. My oldest loves quality time (sometimes the hardest for me to give), and will let me know when she’s feeling neglected and in need of one-on-one time to just talk or do something fun together. J is words of affirmation. Say the wrong thing in the wrong tone and he visibly crumples before my eyes. We knew from the time he was about three that B was physical touch. He’s our cuddler, our intense giver of hugs and kisses. He’s practically happiest when he can sit on a lap and watch a movie with someone.

Once you see in your growing child a preference for one or even two love languages, don’t be so quick to let the others slip. Really until about the age of ten or twelve (sometimes even beyond) children still require sufficient doses of each of the love languages in order for their love tank (like a gas tank, for those who didn’t read the previous post) to be full. Also be watchful of overusing or being insincere in your love languages. Older children can sense these things, like when you’re not being honest with praise in saying he did a good job cleaning his room when he really didn’t, or constantly complaining about not getting other things done when spending what’s supposed to be special time with your kid.

Crossing over into the occasionally terrifying realm of Teenager-dom is where things get tricky. A teen’s love language doesn’t change, but they way in which they want to accept that love does. It all has to do with the awkward and precarious stage of traveling the road to independence. A part of their transition is to begin pulling away from parents’ tender care, which can be a frightening and confusing time for both parents and teens.

I want you to think for a moment of the English language. Though the language is, for the most part, universal throughout the United States (and elsewhere) there are different dialects as you travel from state-to-state, and in some cases from city-to-city. While the basics are the same, the dialects change. This is the same in the love language of your child as he grows into a teen.

Teens don’t want to be loved in the same way they were loved as a child, for the simple fact it makes him/her feel like a child again. Something he/she doesn’t want to be. The love language doesn’t change, just the way in which we begin speaking it.

For example, a child is neither mature nor physically old enough to provide for herself. She relies on Mom and Dad to help provide her with necessities like meals, laundry, etc. These are considered acts of service. As she grows into a young woman, she may no longer want to have you do absolutely everything for her (as you would for a child). Instead she wants to be taught to do these things for herself, another act of service. I know my oldest likes to help cook a meal or two, which makes her fell very grown up.

Another example can be found with physical touch. I know for a fact B won’t want to sit and cuddle during a movie when he’s 16. I’m not going to like it, but I know it. However, he might not mind sitting next to me to have his back scratched. He’ll be the kid who enjoys contact sports, and will wrestle with his brother. He’ll enjoy high-fives and other more “mature” displays of affection.

Once again you’ll notice your teen is focused on one, maybe two specific love languages, but still find ways to love your teen in all five as it will truly help balance things out. No teen appreciates seeing a sibling receive a gift for doing a job well done and not get one his/herself for doing the same thing. It may not mean as much to them, perhaps not as much as the encouraging words you say, but it will mean something nonetheless.

I’ve put down such a basic idea of what these two books hold. Whether you have children/teens of your own, or you work with them through a job or church calling, I highly recommend picking up these books. You’d be amazed to read what can happen to troubled youth when someone finally starts saying “I love you” in a way they understand. Regardless of how old your kids/teens are, you can still work to building up a great relationship with them, no matter how late in the game you might join in.

The Five Love Languages of Children can be found at
The Five Love Languages of Teenagers can be found at


Anonymous said...

Once again thank you for sharing this information! I really need to find some extra cash and purchase these books. Just the overviews you have given on these books makes me realize that this is what I really wanted from my parents but never recieved in the way I thought I should have. I need to read these so I can make sure that I let my kids know I care no matter how old they get.

LaurieW said...

If you can only get one, pick up the one for kids first. You'll still get all the basic information and can utilize what you learn even in other relationships. I'm so glad to hear you were inspired by these posts - I'm such a believer in what he teaches. Mostly because I've put it into practice and know it can help so much!