Author Louise Hart wrote, “How many of you think your parents loved you as a child? Now, how many of you felt loved as a child?” When Hart speaks to parent groups she asks those two questions and consistently gets the same response. When she asks the first question most of the hands in the room go up, on the second question just a sprinkling of hands remains.
Knowing we are loved is not the same as feeling loved. Knowing the sun is shining by seeing it out the window is a very different experience than going outside and feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. Children need to know they are loved and they need to feel loved by us and connected to us. Feeling loved and connected is the emotional fuel that gets them through the day.
We may ask, “With all I do for my children, how could they not feel loved?” Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell address that question in their book, The Five Love Languages of Children. They tell us that doing things for children (acts of service) is only one of the ways that we make children feel loved. Chapman and Ross identify and describe the following five love languages of children: Physical Touch—receiving healthy, loving touch like hugs and backrubs; Quality Time— spending special time together having fun one on one; Words of Affirmation—hearing that we notice, love, and appreciate them; Gifts—being given gifts, in addition to, not instead of, other forms of love; and Acts of Service—being taken care of and helped when they need it.
Each of these languages communicate love, and children need all of them to feel loved. Chapman and Ross explain that every person has a primary love language and they emphasize the importance of parents discovering and speaking each child’s primary love language.
We tend to show our love by doing for others the things that make us feel loved. If a parent’s primary love language is “acts of service” but the child’s primary love language is “words of affirmation,” our acts of service let her know she is loved, but acts of service don’t make her feel loved. She won’t feel loved unless she hears words of love, appreciation, and affirmation. Nurturing touch is the primary love language of all infants. If a child’s primary love language is touch, it will be hugging him, play wrestling with him, or giving him a backrub that will make him feel loved.
When we make it a priority to do the things that make children feel loved we create an upward parenting spiral. When children feel loved they feel happy and are more positive, more cooperative, more loving, and more lovable. Not making it a priority to do the things that make children feel loved creates a downward parenting spiral. When children don’t feel loved, they feel unhappy, and become negative, uncooperative, unloving, and less lovable.
Keeping children’s love cup (emotional fuel tank) filled is the key to effective parenting. When children feel loved and connected they care about what we need and feel. It is only when children care about what we need and feel that they respond to parental guidance. When children are low on emotional fuel they become anxious, stressed, and angry. The more time we spend filling children’s love cup the less time we will spend trying to control children’s anxious, stressed, angry behavior.
It’s difficult to focus on filling our children’s love cup when our own love cup is low or empty. Parents have their primary love language too. What makes you feel most loved? Is it receiving a shoulder rub (touch), hearing ‘Wow! You look beautiful!’(words of affirmation), someone making a meal for you (acts of service), having special time together (quality time), or receiving a surprise gift (gifts)? When parents learn to speak each other’s primary love language, it’s a win-win for the whole family. We are much better equipped to fill a child’s love cup when our love cup is filled. Single parents need support from family and friends to help them fill their children’s love cups and to keep their own love cup level up.
When we have less time to spend with our children, it becomes more important to make sure we spend some of that time filling their love cup. Parenting is a challenging journey, but when we remember to keep the emotional fuel tanks full, the trip is a lot more fun for everyone.
About the Author:
Pam Leo is an independent scholar in human development, a parent educator, a certified childbirth educator, a doula, a parent, and a grandparent.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #20.
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