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Love Languages in Kids

Love Languages are a bit of a buzz phrase at the moment, particularly in regards to adult relationships. However, the concept definitely applies to kids, too! For the first 5 years of life, children need lots of love and physical affection from their parents, and they’re typically not picky on how they get it. Starting around age 5, though, children may start to express opinions on how they want to receive love:

  • Your 6-year-old may not react much to verbal praise, but will completely light up when you offer to play with them.
  • Your 8-year-old may not notice when you do something nice for them, but they melt when you give them hugs.

Below, I’ve listed “signs” of each love language to help you determine which one(s) applies to your child (yep, it’s possible for more than one to fit!). The goal isn’t to provide ONLY their favorite love language and to never use other kinds of care – after all, love languages certainly aren’t an exact science. But if your kid has had a rough day, or your relationship with them has felt rocky lately, love languages can help guide you on how your child most wants to be loved. In addition to listing signs, I’ve also provided ideas on meeting this need, AND an example of how to set boundaries around them.

Physical Touch

Signs this is your child’s love language:

  • They freely and easily give away hugs and kisses
  • Their play with you is very physical – climbing on you, wrestling, etc
  • When they’re sad, they opt for snuggles over talking
  • They’re constantly in your space

Ideas for meeting the need for physical touch:

  • In addition to hugs and high-fives, offer back rubs or head/hand massages
  • Brainstorm physical activities to do together
  • Snuggle on the couch during a movie
  • Make a kid burrito: wrap them tightly in a blanket!
  • Make a point of starting and ending their day with affection

What to say if you need to set a boundary on physical touch: “I know you love to climb on Daddy, but I’m not for climbing right now. I’d love to wrestle with you after lunch!”

Gift-Giving

This love language can get a bad rap, because people may assume kids in this category are simply being greedy. But that isn’t a fair assumption. For these kids, receiving gifts is frequently more about the reminder that their parents 1) know what interests them, 2) were thinking about them during the day, and 3) wanted to do something for them. (Also, the lovely thing about kids with this love language is that they often adore picking out the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

Signs this is your child’s love language:

  • They’re interested in buying/making things for others
  • They remember gifts given to them in the past – even if long ago
  • They light up when given something, even if it’s very small
  • They live for mementos and souvenirs

Ideas for meeting the need for gift-giving:

  • No need to spend a lot of money! Kids can find the $1 toy you found at a garage sale meaningful if you bought it with them in mind.
  • Brainstorm free or low-cost gifts you can leave for them in secret places: a wildflower, a little drawing or note, a cool rock, a piece of candy
  • Show that you value the treasures and gifts your child makes or brings you
  • If an item is wrapped, the feeling of giddy surprise can also add to the specialness of the moment

What to say if you need to set a boundary on gift-giving: “You really want to visit the gift shop before we leave the zoo. We can go look, but we’re not buying any souvenirs today.”

Words of Affirmation

Signs this is your child’s love language:

  • They beam when they get praised
  • They provide you and others with lots of kind-hearted feedback
  • They seek out compliments or reassurance of your love
  • They’re able to verbalize their feelings reasonably well for their age

Ideas for meeting the need for words of affirmation:

  • Acknowledge when you see them do something you like (such as helping with a task or being kind to a younger sibling)
  • Let them overhear you “gossiping” (positively) about them to another person
  • Leave them loving notes in fun places – in the lunchbox, under the pillow, or on the bathroom mirror
  • Keep praise focused on effort, not outcome (“You kept trying until you figured it out” vs. “Good job!”)

This group may tend to seek out praise and reassurance a littleee more than we adults would like, and that can be frustrating. What to say if you need to set a boundary on words of affirmation: “You want to know if I like your painting, but what matters most is if YOU like it.”

Acts of Service

When I was gathering ideas for this one, I was surprised by the judgment this love language seems to get from others, especially when it comes to children. The view seemed to be that this group is merely trying to avoid responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, there absolutely IS such as a thing as over-dependence, but writing off the entire group as been too needy doesn’t seem fair. Children and adults with this love language can be perfectly self-sufficient, but feel loved when others make an effort do something kind for them.

Signs this is your child’s love language:

  • They’re often willing to lend others a helping hand
  • They ask for help on things you know they can do themselves
  • Their “gifts” to you may look like trying to make you lunch or doing a chore for you
  • They notice when you do things for them

Ideas for meeting the need for acts of service:

  • Brainstorm the little things that your child might appreciate: cutting their sandwich into a heart shape? Making them a glass of lemonade when they come in from playing outside? Lining up their stuffed animals on the bed?
  • Notice and acknowledge when they try to something for you – yes, even if the attempt creates a mess!
  • Offer assistance on tasks you see your child struggling with. This doesn’t mean doing it for them! You can offer a hand without taking over.

What to say if you need to set a boundary on acts of service: “You’re frustrated with your homework and you’re hoping I’ll do it for you. It looks really tough! Show me what you’re confused on and I’ll see if I can help.”

Quality Time

Note: pretty much all kids benefit from true quality time with their parents. (Quality time meaning without distractions or screens involved!) However, there’s no doubt that some kids crave the time even more than others.

Signs this is your child’s love language:

  • They frequently beg you to play with them or watch them
  • Their behavior improves after getting one-on-one time with you
  • They may struggle with playing alone
  • They stall at bedtime

Ideas for meeting the need for quality time:

  • Provide consistent one-on-one playtime with your child with no distractions. Even a 30-minute playtime once a week can have big benefits!
  • The key here is QUALITY time, not quantity. Undivided attention is what’s needed. Playing a game with them while also cooking dinner can be fun, but it’s not the same thing.
  • Don’t banish your child to their room alone as a consequence for misbehavior.
  • For older kids who may be less interested in playing with toys: make a list of free or cheap activities together and let your child choose what you do

What to say if you need to set a boundary on your time: “You really need some time with me right now. I’m going to finish this task, and then I’d love to play outside with you.”

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