I picked this book because The 5 Love Languages have solidly made their way into popular culture. And while you can’t really find out your child’s Myers-Briggs type or Enneagram until much much later, their primary love language does start showing signs early on.
As a parent, I will do anything to understand my kids better. And with most parenting books, I take them with a grain of salt and I can generally pick out an odd pearl or two of wisdom to pass along for my review. For this book, the pearls came from the first 6 chapters, discussing the love languages themselves. Unfortunately, this back half of this book was a bit of a letdown. I rarely say this, but you’re probably fine just reading this review instead of reading the entire book.
The 5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively
by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell
I agree with many of the Goodreads reviews that this book doesn’t seem overtly Christian judging from the front/back cover. I also didn’t think The 5 Love Languages series was from a Christian publisher. But it is, and this book brings it full-force by the end.
I identify as Episcopalian and while we have reviewed other parenting books by Christian publishers before, this one does seem to have very strong religious overtones. It very much champions the traditional nuclear family and places negative connotations on divorced parents and disengaged dads.
It is also worth noting that the families referenced in this book were chosen from participants in the authors’ Love Languages workshops and seminars, not a representative research study. So you will have a bit of bias in the stories and their results. Many of the stories were told second-hand, and some of the projections are a bit “if they had just used the right language, everything would’ve been sunshine and rainbows”.
After the introductory chapters, it’s a bit more circuitous, touching on child anger, passive-aggressive behavior, and using love languages as a single parent. It also includes an excerpt chapter from The 5 Love Languages (for couples), just in case you want a refresher.
So if I’ve still got your interest, here are my takeaways:
The Emotional Love Tank
I’m a Real Housewives fan, so when the authors introduce the concept of kids having an emotional love tank that needs to be filled in order for them to function, I very quickly realized that this was not going to be hard-hitting psychology. In fact, every time they mentioned “emotional love tank”, I could only think of RHOC Vicki and her truly cringeworthy tag line.
Drawing parallels, the emotional love tank is no different than just making sure your child feels safe, secure, seen, and heard. The five love languages are simplified strategies for doing just that; letting your child know that they are loved and secure. This goes right along with building trust and modeling empathy.
While I don’t agree that all child/teen problems and misbehaviors stem from an empty love tank, I do think that parents should take an active role in understanding their children, and responding to their needs in a unique, tailored way. None of your kids are going to have the same love language. They will each need specific things to feel loved. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all
Through Age 4, Use All 5 Love Languages
The five love languages are 1) Physical Touch, 2) Words of Affirmation, 3) Quality Time, 4) Gifts, and 5) Acts of Service.
Before the age of 4, kids’ needs are pretty easy to fulfill. They are just developing and we give them lots of attention and care while they are learning to become more capable. We have no problem being present and responsive to our newborns, but we tend to start pulling away around the age of 4 when they become more independent.
Their perspective until this time is very self-centered since they are just learning the concepts of empathy. So parents need to try on all different types of love languages to see what their kids gravitate toward. Their love language will also change periodically, so keep a varied approach.
Also remember that you are your child’s biggest role model. This is where this book differs from the original 5 Love Languages book for couples. While you use love languages for both your partner and your kids to enrich your relationship, with your kids you are actually teaching them how to show love. Model all types of love so that your child will see and learn what it means to show someone else care and appreciation. By the time they are an adult, they should know how to both give and receive love, and know that they are loved themselves.
Quality Time Means UNDIVIDED Attention
I included this because it hits home with us modern parents. Although our kids spend the majority of our waking hours with us, especially in the last year during quarantine, that doesn’t necessarily count as “quality time”. Whether we’re sitting next to them on the couch or in the same room, if we’re on our phones, then it’s not quality time. If we take them to the park, but are just sitting on a bench and not engaging, that’s not quality time.
NEVER Use Your Child’s Love Language Against Them
Discipline is always a tricky line. When it comes to love languages, if used in a negative way, they become more than just discipline. They can become punishment.
For example, if your child’s love language is physical touch and you withhold hugging them because they made a mistake, that hurts. Even worse, if their love language is physical touch and you discipline them by spanking or another form of corporeal punishment, you’ve now turned their love language into a fear. This will severely damage your trusting relationship with your child, and will make it extremely difficult for you or anybody else to show them love effectively.
Unkind words, refusing to help them if they need it, isolating them; all can be very damaging, but they have the potential to do worse depending on how your child receives love.
I know my parent loves me because…
At the end of each Language chapter, the authors include a series of statements from kids all starting with, “I know my mom/dad love me because…”.
The statements are generally pretty straightforward depending on the age of kid:
“I know my dad loves me because he always comes to my baseball games.”
“I know my mom loves me because she helps me with my homework.”
“ I know my parent loves me because they bring me a gift when they come home from traveling.”
“I know my mom loves me because she tells me she loves me every single day.”
I liked that this shows it doesn’t take much for your child to feel loved. You don’t need to make grand gestures or take them to Disneyworld or buy them everything they ask for. If not paired with true, thoughtful acts of love, all the big stuff is really just bribery. It really is just the little, everyday things that build your parent-child relationship.
If you are trying to figure out your kid’s love language, try out a couple different approaches over the next few weeks and see if there is any shift, either in positive behavior or overall smoothness of the day.
On www.5lovelanguages.com, the series authors share study guides, quizzes and profiles of what you can do for you kids within each love language. Also, at any time, you can ask your child, “Are you feeling loved?”.