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A child's love language, how learning what makes them feel loved can better their lives

Dive deep into the 5 love languages and what you should look for when discovering your child's
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Posted at 5:45 AM, Nov 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-16 09:27:03-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Being a parent can be a challenge, but perhaps even more difficult is discovering how your child communicates their needs for love and attention.

A child's love language can play a role into all of that.

"The concept of the love languages is that we feel most loved and connected with others when we experience one or two of these love languages as adults. The same can be true of the children in our lives," Kimberly O'Connell, a licensed family therapist said.

Finding out what love languages your kid responds to can help parents better understand and help children grow.

"Something that I like to think about children is they're always developing," Kimberly O'Connell said.

O'Connell studies family dynamics. As a licensed family therapist she works to help families better understand their child's need for love an attention.

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Understanding those needs can be challenging even if you child can communicate them.

"I think something that's really important is to attune to your child and where they are in their stage of development," O'Connell said.

O'Connell says perhaps one of the easiest ways to do that is to discover their love language.

"Love languages are really ways of connection seeking. We're just wanting to know that we're connected to the person that we love the most," she said.

The key piece to all of it is making your child feel love, and O'Connell says it boils down to something quite simple. Connection. A connection from parent to child that shows the kid they are being cared for.

"Any love language, any one of these things is just our child saying, "hey are you connected to me?" "Oh I know you love me,"" O'Connell said.

Experts say there are five love languages for children, much like adults.

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

The same love languages are listed for adults. But the difference between love languages between adults and children is often times stages of life and situations play a role in to their love language.
O'Connell says just because your child appears to have words of affirmation as a love language one day, doesn't mean tomorrow it couldn't be physical touch.

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"They didn't put this in the parenting manual that's for sure," Amanda Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt is about to graduate with her masters in family counseling. She has done extensive research on a child's love language.

With the help of the skills she has learned as a mother to twins Prescott and Quinn, she was able to discover and see first hand how love languages play a role in a child's daily lives.

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"Kids are just so authentic and genuine, they don't know how to fake it for people," Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt, like O'Connell, say they see a difference in their kids.

"Prescott is definitely my cuddle bug, whereas Quinn likes to do her own thing," Hildebrandt said.

Those differences play a role in how they parent their children.

"Just because you parent one child one way doesn't mean that's how you should parent the next. Even if they are both your children," O'Connell said.

It can be confusing to discover what works best for your child, especially when it is ever changing.

"Our children are constantly developing and may not have a clear love language just yet. So, try not to worry about “missing” how they can be best loved. Instead, try being a good observer of their bids for connection with you. Our children might be subtle in their connection seeking or super clear depending on their personality and age," O'Connell said.

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Jayla Toney agrees. She says her twins Kova and Kaycen show their different love languages already at 6 months old.

"Kaycen is defiantly a more physical touch. She wants to be held, touch your face. Where Kova is more acts of service. She will throw her toy just so you will bring it back to her," Toney said.

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But there are a few key factors that will help parents better understand and discover what love language/s their child might be.

Words of Affirmation

This is pretty self explanatory, this love language is seen as words being what hold the most weight.

A child being told they are doing great, or a child being told good job could be how they feel most loved.

"This one can be easy to discover in your child. Maybe your kiddo is constantly saying "Look at this," "Watch me." That is your child seeking your words of affirmation to feel love," O'Connell said.

This can be viewed as your child appearing to be happiest when they are being praised or hearing positive words.

Acts of Service

This love language can sometimes be hard to recognize in a child. Especially if they are younger, and often times it can be confused with gifts.

But for older children, they might show their love by doing something without being told. Maybe they make dinner for the family or even take the trash out.

Those are easy to spot, and while it might not be a parents love language, experts say it is important to acknowledge those "tasks" your child is doing.

If your child's love language is acts of service they could seem to brighten up when you make them dinner, or even help them clean up their mess.

"It is really important to not lets acts of service get in the way of a child's development. If you, as a parent, find yourself doing things for your child to make them feel loved, are you allowing them the space to learn fundamental things?" O'Connell said.

Gifts

O'Connell says gifts can be one of the first love languages your child shows. It's the quick twinkle you see in their eye when you buy them a new toy.

But, gifts can often times mean much more to a child than just a physical item.

"Often times it isn't the physical item, like a toy or a new stuffed animal you bought them, but rather the thought of "Hey you were thinking of me when you were at the store and that makes me feel loved,"" O'Connell said.

O'Connell says gifts can get tricky, because sometimes it could be a parent pushing something onto a child.

She says a good way to approach gifts as a love language is to allow your child to pick a gift out together.

"That allows your child the freedom to express themselves, and not be told they should like something specific because mom likes it," O'Connell said.

Quality Time

Quality time, perhaps, is the most versatile love language.

O'Connell says this can look different daily with children and be based off of situations.

"One of my kids always wants to be in the kitchen with me. As a busy, working mom, it can get overwhelming. But if I take a second to really read into that situation, I see my child just wants to spend quality, uninterrupted time with me. I spend so much time in the kitchen, they just want to be where I am," O'Connell said.

She says the key to quality time as a love language is to take an extra moment to make the situation count.

For example, allow your child to crack an egg when you're preparing dinner. Or let them help you set the table. Rather than them just sitting in the same room as you.Those moments of being intentional and engaging can go a long way with a child.

Physical Touch

O'Connell says this love language can be the most polarizing and often times younger children thrive off of physical touch more than older kids.

Physical touch is one of the first ways a child can express their love, it can be done without words.

O'Connell says physical touch can be a way to break down walls with your child.

"I think of an example recently where my daughter was struggling with something at school but didn't want to tell us. She was acting frustrated and was very irritable. Finally, I asked her if she wanted a hug, and that opened the door for her to tell us what she was going through," O'Connell said.

The key with love languages is figuring out a balance between making your child feel loved, but not letting your own love language get in the way.

"It's just about listening to their request and also just being good observers when we can," O'Connell said.

Either way, parents understanding how their child feels and how they prefer to receive love is key in a successful, healthy relationship with them.

"Try to do the best, but the best for you is different than the best from the next mom. But that doesn't mean any of us are doing anything wrong. It's just what works for my kids. works so much different for someone elses," Hildebrandt said.

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O'Connell broke it down in simple steps to help parents better understand what to look for.

What Am I Trying to Observe?


Do you have a little who wants to be on your hip, asks for lots of hugs, or calms down quickly when you hold them? Physical touch might be important to them.



Does your child really like it when you make their bed, or have breakfast waiting for them in the morning? Acts of service may help them feel your love.



Do you often get requests for “a little treat” or “something special” from you? Gifts can provide a sense of connection for some children.



Does your teen bring papers home for you to look over or ask what you thought of their performance at their game or concert? Your words of affirmation might really help them feel seen by you.



Do you have a child who is always at your feet wanting to cook with you or likes hanging out while you work in the garage or clean? They might be interested in quality time with you.

Kimberly O'Connell

O'Connell's biggest advice is to slow down. If you aren't sure how to make your child feel loved or you aren't sure what they are needing, to take a breath.

She says it's better to wait to react to a situation, then come to your kids and acknowledge you now know how you should have responded in that situation, rather than disregard how they want to feel loved in a moment.

"You are doing a great job. Slow down. Take a breath, and enjoy the ride of parenting. It is all going to be fine," O'Connell said.

To read O'Connell's blog about love languages, click here.