If I were to ask you, what it looks like to love your kids well, what would you say? Some of you might say that providing food, clothing, and a safe home shows your kids that you love them. Some of you might say spending quality time together as a family or speaking words of affirmation over your kids are ways you can show them they are loved. Today, I want to talk about some specific areas that we can focus on that will help us love our kids well.
In her book, A Confident Mom, Simple Ways To Give Your Child What They Need Most, Renee Swope shares different needs that all children have. She offers practical tips on how to meet those needs while also building Godly characteristics within our children. She says,
“We can develop the gold of God’s character in our children’s hearts by offering them the ingredients of encouraging words, God’s Word, and an emphasis on character in an environment of acceptance, approval, affirmation, and unconditional love under the conditions of heart connection, belonging, affirmation, listening, quality time, patience, awareness, an accurate portrayal of God’s goodness and grace, fun and loving biblical discipline, the power of apology, and forgiveness.”
By providing the right ingredients in the right environment under the right conditions, we can love our kids exactly as God has called us. So what are some of these needs that our kids have?
One need your child has is to feel known, understood and completely accepted for who he is. We are reminded in the book of Psalm, that each of our children were carefully and uniquely created exactly as God intended.
“For You shaped [my child], inside and out. You knitted [my child] together in my [own] womb long before [he] took [his] first breath. I will offer You my grateful heart, for [my child] [is] Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe. You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;Your works are wonderful; I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. You see all things; nothing about [my child] was hidden from You as [he] took shape in secret, carefully crafted in the heart of the earth before [he] was born from its womb. You see all things; You saw [my child] growing, changing in my [own] womb; Every detail of [my child’s] life was already written in Your book; You established the length of [his] life before [he] ever tasted the sweetness of it.” Psalm 139:13-15 (VOICE; emphasis added)
Renee Swope says that as moms, we need to remember that,
“Our kids are not like hotdogs. They’re like potatoes, creatively designed by God to be different.”
Think about that for a moment. Hotdogs are all the same shape, the same size, and they all fit nicely in a bun. Potatoes on the other hand, come in all different sizes and shapes, some have more eyes than others, and you would be hard pressed to find two that were exactly alike. God created people just like He created potatoes. Each is unique and different in its own way. Renee goes on to say,
“When God created our children, He gave them individual personalities that are a unique combination of . . . desires, emotional needs, strengths, and challenges. Understanding our children’s personalities, and affirming their uniqueness, is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.”
There are many personality tests that we could look at to better understand our kids, but the one we’ll look at today is one developed by Hippocrates. He felt that there were four general personalities that people fall into. Renee Swope explains what these four different personality types look like in our children.
The first is the Phlegmatic personality. A Phlegmatic’s number one goal in life is to have peace. Children with this personality are typically low-key and easy-going, have a good sense of humor, don’t get upset easily, and are extremely likable.
- Motto: Let’s do it the easy way
- Emotional Needs: peace and quiet, downtime, and a feeling of worth
- Strengths: Calm, peacemakers, steady, consistent, kind, and great listeners
- Challenges in Parenting: Hard to motivate, resistant to exertion, conflict avoidant, stubborn and tend to procrastinate
The second of the four personalities is the Choleric Personality. A Choleric’s number one goal in life is to be in control. Children with this type of personality are dependable, hard working, and natural born leaders. They like to have a sense of control and can be counted on to get things done. They also have strong opinions and aren’t shy about sharing them.
- Motto: Just do it
- Emotional Needs: Control, appreciation, loyalty, and getting credit
- Strengths: Organized, task-oriented, and competent – They are also gifted at seeing a situation, thinking through things, and coming to a right conclusion
- Challenges in Parenting: Overly determined, stubborn, and strong-willed – They want to be in control and do things their own way, which sometimes comes across as bossy, rude, and inconsiderate
The third personality is the Sanguine Personality. A Sanguine’s number one gaol in life is to have fun. Children with this type of personality are energetic, loving, adventurous, and fun. They enjoy quality time with friends and family, enjoy being the center of attention, and are often very entertaining.
- Motto: Let’s do it the fun way
- Emotional Needs: Attention, affection, and a sense of approval
- Strengths: Ability to make friends quickly, a great sense of humor, and storytelling abilities – They can charm their way into all kinds of situations and out of all kinds of trouble
- Challenges in Parenting: Attention-seeking, which can overshadow others – They tend to back out of commitments if they aren’t fun, and they are sensitive to criticism and take it extremely personally
The last of the four personalties is the Melancholy Personality. A Melancholy’s number one goal is perfection. Children with a melancholy personality are thoughtful, sensitive, work well alone, strive for perfection, careful, organized, and have great attention for details
- Motto: Let’s do it the right way
- Emotional needs: Sensitivity, space, solitude, and quiet
- Strengths: Able to work well alone and having an artistic sensibility along with the ability to be analytical – They love schedules, accuracy, and rules to follow
- Challenges in Parenting: Shy, clingy, perfectionistic, afraid to fail, sensitive to criticism, see problems instead of solutions, moody
Of these personality types, which one(s) do you see in your child? What do you love about your child’s personality? What challenges does your child’s personality bring?
We live in a world that holds our kids to unrealistic expectations and tells them every day that their worth is found in what they have, how popular they are, or how well they are doing compared to others. Understanding how God uniquely created our kids and offering acceptance and approval for the ways in which He created them is so important. Renee Swope says,
“The environment of our home shapes our children’s perspective of themselves, of God, and of life. Let’s create a home where our potatoes can grow in the soil of acceptance and approval. A home where they know they are loved for who they are and liked for how they are. A home where our kids, whether young or old, don’t feel pressured to be the product of their parents desires or efforts. A home where everyone’s needs and preferences are honored, and where each person is encouraged to discover and develop their unique interests, abilities, strengths, and challenges. And let’s remember our kids are in process, becoming all that God created them to be.”
Does this describe the current environment of your home? Is your home a place where your children are able to flourish and grow into the people God created them to be?
Another need that our children have is to feel loved and pursued. In their book, The 5 Love Languages of Children, Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, say,
“In raising children, everything depends on the love relationship between the parent and child. Nothing works well if a child’s love needs are not met. Only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best. You may truly love your child, but unless she feels it – unless you speak the love language that communicates to her your love – she will not feel loved.”
Love languages; every person has one. It’s the way in which we understand and perceive love. As a parent, it’s important to identify your child’s love language and communicate your love for him in a way that he understands. By speaking in your child’s love language, you fill up his “emotional tank”. As your child moves through challenges in life, it is this tank filled with love, that will help him to persevere.
Now, I need to note a few things. First, it’s important that the love we speak to our child is unconditional. Unconditional love accepts and affirms a child for who he is not what he does. In addition, unconditional love is not based on performance.
Secondly, it is difficult to identify a child’s love language much before the age of five. Because of this, it is important to speak in all of the languages until the language that speaks most directly to the heart of your child is made clear. And even when it is made clear, it is still beneficial for your child to see love expressed in the other languages. Some kids respond well to more than one language, and as they grow up, they will learn to love people well by the example you set.
And, lastly, speaking in your child’s love language is not a guarantee that you will not face trials or challenges as you raise him. There will be hard days. But, those hard days your child experiences, will be filtered through the deep down knowing that he is loved.
The first of the five love languages is physical touch. Physical touch is the easiest language to use, and for some children, it communicates love more deeply than words. Physical touch is defined as any physical contact used to communicate love. You can express love through physical touch in many ways. For your infant holding, cuddling, kissing, feeding, and rocking are all ways to communicate love through physical touch. Your toddler will feel loved through hugs and kisses, wrestling on the floor, or reading a story as you hold him on your lap. As your child enters school, there is still a strong need for physical touch. This need can be met through a touch on the head, a pat on the shoulder, sitting closely together on the couch or through playing physical games with one another. As your child moves through adolescence, physical touch continues to be a strong need. However, it is important to respect the timing and space for this communication to occur. Children at this age are filled with emotions, thoughts, and desires and are in the process of discovering their identity. In addition, peers are becoming more important and the opinions of those peers matter a great deal. Your child likely does not want you to hug and kiss him in front of others. At home however, your child may welcome a hug, a neck massage after studying for hours on end, or a back scratch. Look for ways that you can love your child through physical touch, but be sensitive to the timing and the place.
The next love language is words of affirmation. Words of affection, endearment, praise, encouragement, and words that give positive guidance are all powerful when we are communicating love to our kids.
When speaking words of affirmation over your child, it is important to remember a few things. First, choose your words carefully. Angry words are damaging for any child, but more so for a child whose love language is words of affirmation. Remember that your words are extremely powerful and have the ability to build your child up or tear him down. Proverbs tells us,
“Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.” Proverbs 15:4 (MSG)
Use care in the words you speak.
Secondly, take care not to overpraise your child. Two things can happen when a child receives too much praise. First, if our kids are used to hearing praise from us all of the time, it becomes less meaningful to them. Secondly, our children may become accustomed to praise and expect it from everyone. When it is not given, a child my become anxious and feel that there may be something wrong with him. Give praise when it is due, but use caution about overusing it.
Words of affirmation can be expressed in several ways. With infants, it’s important to remember that they cannot understand spoken words. They can however, understand the look on your face and the affectionate sounds you make. Hold your baby physically close and speak lovingly to them. With toddlers, it’s important to remember that they think very concretely at this age. Love is a very abstract concept. Hold your child physically close to you as you speak to them. Children will begin to associate the loving feeling of being with you to the words you are saying. For school age children and those moving through adolescence, words of affirmation are extremely important. Encouraging words and notes can go a long way in helping a child feel loved. Praise your child for his accomplishments and be very specific with that praise. Rather than saying, “Good job” say, “I appreciate how thoroughly you dusted the living room today” or “I loved how you were encouraging your teammates out on the court”. Give encouragement and specific praise to communicate your love to your child.
Our next love language is quality time. This love language is communicated by the giving of our focused, undivided attention to our child. It’s giving the gift of our presence and assuring our kids that they are important and that we enjoy spending time with them. Quality time is what many kids crave and most of the misbehavior we see from them is simply their way of expressing that they need our presence. They need our focused and undivided attention.
Now, quality time can be difficult to give, especially as a child grows older and life gets busier. Many of us struggle with accomplishing the tasks we need to in a given day let alone taking extra time to spend with our kids. However, for the child whose love language is quality time, taking that time is so important. A child who needs this time and does not receive it, can quickly begin to doubt that he is loved.
For your child who needs this time, start by giving your child time first. Spend time with your child first, then move on to the task at hand. This might mean that you set a timer for ten minutes and play a game. Once the timer goes off, you return to the work you were doing. Your child gets some of your time and you still have time to work. You could also try including your child in your work. For example, if you are washing dishes, maybe your child could help dry and put them away. It may take longer to complete the task, but that time with your child will be worth your investment.
When spending quality time together, focus on being together. That is what your child desires most. Going somewhere special or spending money is not required when spending quality time together. Making eye contact, talking together, and giving your undivided attention is what matters most.
To spend quality time with your baby, hold him, cuddle him, and play with him. For your toddler, play together. Join him on the playground, get down and help him build the sandcastle, build a blanket fort and read a book together under it. For your school aged child, play together, throw a football back and forth, do nails together, or plan date nights that give your child some one-on-one time. For your adolescent, setting aside time to talk one-on-one is really important. Those times that are set aside for the two of you can not only help you to understand your child better, but also give you an opportunity to discuss some deeper issues that would not otherwise come up in conversation. I’ve had many deep and important conversations with my kids by setting aside this time. Giving our kids quality time is so important.
Gifts is another love language. This love is communicated through the giving and receiving of gifts. A true gift for a child is just that. It’s a gift. It’s freely given as an expression of love, not payment for services rendered. Giving your child a gift as a reward for cleaning his room is not a true gift. It’s payment for cleaning his room. A child with this primary love language feels love upon receiving a gift and will make a huge deal about receiving the gift. The gift will be placed in a special place, and every time he sees the gift (even if a number of years have passed) he will feel loved.
For this love language to be effective, however, the gift must be given while communicating in another love language. Give words of affirmation or a hug with the gift. Give the gift as you spend quality time together. A child whose love language is gifts needs not just the physical gift. They need to feel the love behind the gift.
It’s important to note that gifts should not be used as a substitute for your presence. Our kids need our presence in their lives. It’s also important to remember not to over give. Just as we talked about with praise, if we overwhelm our child with gifts, the gifts may very well lose their specialness. Choose gifts carefully, size or cost doesn’t matter. What matters is the love behind it.
This language is easier to express as your child gets older. The love language of gifts can be expressed through a special treats given when you are out running errands or traveling. It could be snack served on a special plate or eating by candlelight. Love can be expressed through a special box or drawer for their treasures or by making up a song just for your child. You can wrap up new shoes and present them at dinner or bring your child something home from a trip. Remember that it isn’t necessarily the gift that matters most. What matters most is the love behind it.
Our last love language is acts of service. This is a language as moms that we speak every day. This love is communicated by doing things for your child.
There are two important things to note about acts of service for this language to be effective. First, doing what is best for your child, not what pleases him, should be your primary motivation. My kids would be absolutely delighted if I made ice cream sundaes for dinner every night. Though that act of service would certainly please them, it’s not what’s best for them. Doing what is best for the overall wellbeing of your child should be your primary motivation.
Secondly, it’s important to remember that your acts of service need to be age appropriate. You express love as you do things for your child that he is unable to do for himself. Feeding your infant, doing your toddler’s laundry, packing your kindergartener’s lunch, or taking your teenage to basketball practice are all examples of age appropriate acts of service. However, there does come a time when these acts of service need to shift and become the responsibility of your child. For example, when my children were younger, I did their laundry. However, now at the ages of 11, 13, and 15, all three of my children are quite capable of doing their own laundry. That is now their responsibility. All three of my children are also quite capable of unloading and loading the dishwasher, running the vacuum, and preparing simple meals. As your child gets older, it is important to give him additional, age appropriate responsibilities. This not only encourages independence, but teaches your child the value of hard work and responsibility. Chapman and Campbell say,
“Parents who are too busy to teach children how to do laundry, or too perfectionistic to let them do it, are not loving those children, but crippling them. We serve our children, but as they are ready, we teach them how to serve themselves and then others.”
What are some examples of ways to express love through our acts of service? For your infant, anything you do to care for him is an act of service. Feeding, changing diapers, and dressing him each day are all examples of act of service. The many things you do for your infant you will also do for your toddler. Dress him or help him pick out appropriate clothing. Feed him, wash his clothes, and take him to preschool. These are all examples of acts of service. For older children, it’s important to continue to meet their basic needs. But, it is also important at this age to begin giving them age appropriate chores. This not only fosters their independence, but teaches responsibility. It also shows trust on your part. Sometimes as moms, it can be hard for us to let go of some of our household responsibilities and put them in the hands of our children. They likely won’t load the dishwasher like you do, and it may take them forever to wash that sink full of dishes. But, it is so important that you place some trust in them and hand over some of those responsibilities.
Now, there will be times that you do things for your kids that you know they can do on their own. For example, one day, we had stripped the sheets off of the beds so I could wash them. Later that evening, I went upstairs and made my oldest son’s bed. Can he make his own bed? Yes, but, I knew he was going to be getting home late that night. I made his bed out of love. There have been times that I’ve packed my kids’s backpacks on extremely chaotic mornings. Can my kids pack their own bags? Yes, they can, but I did it out of love for them. These acts of service were done purely out of love and was my way of loving my kids well in that moment. Though we don’t want to baby our kids, and they need to be held responsible in some areas, there are times when they need us to extend grace. They need us to love them well in the moment.
Now that we’ve talked about the different love languages, how do we know which love language speaks directly to the heart of our child? First, observe how your child expresses love to others. Children will express love in the way that they would most like to receive it. For example: my youngest is always encouraging those around him and loves to give hugs. The love languages that speak to his heart are Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Take some time to observe how your child expresses love to others.
Secondly, listen to what your child requests most often. If you hear, “Look at me”, that translates into “Spend time with me.” If your child asks, “Is this coloring ok”, that translates into “I need words of affirmation.” Listen to what your child is telling you.
Thirdly, pay attention to what your child complains about most frequently. Frequency is the key here. If your child frequently says, “You’re always busy,” that child is likely trying to ask you to spend some quality time with him. If your child begs to be held, he needs some physical touch. Take notice of the complaints of your child. He simply could be asking for your love.
And lastly, you can offer your child a choice between two love languages to discover which speaks most directly to his heart. For example, you can give your child the choice of quality time or a gift by offering to play a game together or picking out new shoes. Or, you could offer your child the choice of quality time or acts of service by offering to go for a walk together or receive help cleaning his room. Giving your child a choice is a good way to discover which love language speaks more directly to his heart.
Learning to speak in the love languages that touch the hearts of our children is so important. It meets the most basic and critical need they have to feel loved and pursued, but also serves as a model for how to love others well. Are you meeting this need of your child? Does your child know without a doubt that he is loved?
Our kids need to feel known, understood and completely accepted. They need to know that they are loved and being pursued. How well are you meeting these needs of your child?
Loving our kids as God has called us to is sacred, holy work. Loving them well encourages them to become the best version of who God created them to be. And, though it won’t always be easy, remember mama, that loving your kids well is one of the most precious gifts you can give.
Biblegateway. www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 13 Apr. 2022.
Chapman, Gary and Campbell, Ross. The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago: Northfield. 2012.
Swope, Renee. A Confident Mom: Simple Ways to Give Your Child What They Need Most. Revell, 2022.