Lots of family therapists have many, varied ideas and practises to enhance the quality of our family life and our relationships with those we care for.
One of these theories is often referred to as “The Five Love Languages” and it works on the principle that each of us responds more powerfully to one type of experience of demonstrated love than another. In order to allow the person we care about to know how we feel, we need to try to determine their specific love language. These love languages can be identified as 1. Words of Affirmation, 2. Quality Time, 3. Receiving Gifts, 4. Acts of Service and 5. Physical Touch.
If we are not sure what is likely to impact the person we care about we may be missing out on really showing them how we feel and leaving them feeling undervalued, this can be very challenging when letting our children know that they are loved and precious.
Possibly the deepest human need is the need to feel appreciated. Words of affirmation will meet that need in many individuals. Words of affirmation are words that ‘build up’ and focus on strengths rather than deficits. These could include things like-: “It’s so good to spend time with you”, “I love the way you stuck at that even when it got hard”, “Thanks for just being you”
Quality time is giving someone your undivided attention, this needs to be a ‘device free’ space where you can fully engage with the other person. It could be playing a board game, riding bikes or walking together, teaching a skill that they are keen to learn or allowing them to engage you in an activity they value like craft or Lego and letting them be in charge. Life is always busy and there are multiple competing demands on our time but the value of time spent like this is incalculable.
The Love Language of Receiving Gifts gives the person you care about a tangible object or experience that allows them to feel valued and special. There is a big difference between giving gifts and spoiling your child, gifts need not cost very much at all but may remind them that you were thinking of them while you were apart. It may be a simple token from an outing, it might be something you know they value and are collecting or it may be a funny note or letter that they discover when you are apart.
An Act of Service may sound a bit strange with our children when it feels like every waking hour is directed to doing things for them, but there are still responsibilities that children have to fulfil and these can sometimes be overwhelming, just quietly stepping alongside them and offering to support them as they deal with a challenge like tidying their room or doing the dishes can help them to feel that they are valued. This is as a spontaneous act not as a result of the pressure of whinging.
Physical Touch; Hugs and kisses are the most common way of speaking this love language, but there are other ways, too. When a child is tossed in the air, spun round and round laughing wildly, being tickled and reading a story with the child on their lap. It is always lovely to watch a small child patting the back of the person giving them a hug, this shows me that they have learned the love language of physical touch.
All these need to be practised regularly but if you focus you may be able to identify your child’s specific love language. They have strange ways of showing us what they need; always getting into our physical space if they respond to touch, repeatedly seeking approval if their need is words of affirmation, or dragging out things to do with you that will take all your focus. Trying to keep a balance in your life between children’s competing needs and our own and our partners needs means that it is never simple but it is still helpful to be able to keep in our mind as we try to rein in the wild chaotic life that is family.
Gill Van Der Ende