My kids are 3.5 years apart, a boy and a girl, and they are best friends. Since we homeschool, they are together all the time. They each have their own friends and their own activities, but they spend the majority of their time together. They get along really well, but like all siblings, they have plenty of opportunities for repairing hurt feelings.
It’s been about 8 years since I first read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. It has been incredibly helpful for my husband and me to communicate and if not avoid emotional conflict, at least understand why it happened and resolve it. Since using words like “Words of Affirmation” and “Physical Touch” are part of our family language, we have passed this on to our kids naturally, and have helped them to figure out what their love languages are.
It can be tricky to figure out a child’s love language. I think part of the problem is that we have multiple times during the year where we give children gifts, and kids always love getting gifts, so it can feel like Receiving Gifts may be high for them. I have tried some Love Language quizzes online, but none of them really seemed to work very well for my kids. Ultimately I just tried to observe the way they showed love to others, as that is often the best indicator of their love language.
In addition to learning how to show love, knowing a person’s love language is also extremely helpful to keep from hurting them. We have taken to calling this, the opposite of your love language, your “Hurt Language” (or “Hate Language” as my son likes to say, since he thinks that describes it better). Basically, if you criticize a person whose love language is Words of Affirmation, reject physical contact from a person whose love language is Physical Touch, or refuse to help someone whose love language is Acts of Service, they will probably feel completely rejected and unloved.
Since my son (12) has identified his love language as Acts of Service, he feels unloved when someone refuses to help him with a task. If he were to ask for help picking up his room and I said, “Sorry, you have to do it by yourself,” he would feel incredibly hurt. When I have to decline a request, I am careful to be kind so that I don’t use his “hate language”. I know that using the phrase, “I would be happy to do that with you,” is a way to fill his love cup to the top. I often show him love by making him food – he’s approaching adolescence now and his appetite shows it. Even something as simple as making him a PB&J, which he can do by himself and often does, makes him feel incredibly loved.
My daughter’s (8) love language is Words of Affirmation, so if she is spoken to harshly, even just a little bit sharper or louder than normal, it’s like a knife to her heart and she crumbles. We have all learned that we need to be extra sensitive when we speak to her, especially if we have something negative to say. Often just going over and putting a hand on her shoulder, and lowering the volume so the words come out gently can prevent her from feeling hurt by a correction or criticism. Those times where our own hurt causes us to be hurtful are especially painful to her, since it’s our voices and words that most often express our hurt. We do a lot of repair in this department.
Hurts are inevitable, so you can use your knowledge of love language to think of a way to repair the relationship when needed.
I recently found this note that Allen wrote to his sister. He had a quick reaction of anger to something she did and he yelled at her. He came to me feeling awful and said that he had used her “hate language” and he didn’t know what to do next. I encouraged him to think about her love language and how he could use that knowledge to repair the mistake. Usually when she is upset, trying to talk is unhelpful until she calms. He ended up writing her this note.
For someone whose love language is Physical Touch, an apology should include some form of physical connection, whether it’s a hug or just sitting close by and touching their hand.
With Acts of Service, offering to help with a task or just doing something for the person can show them love. For a child who strongly values Quality Time, offering to play a game or read a book together can be healing. And when it comes to Gifts, those don’t always have to be tangible presents you buy. You can make someone a card or a little flower out of paper and give it to them with an apology.
What love languages are in your family?
Have you identified the love languages of your children? What ways have you discovered to show them love using their language, or to heal hurts when they happen? I would love to hear from you in the comments!