My kids don’t make it very easy to love them. Come to think of it, not very many people I know do! But since my older two daughters have bipolar and ADHD, they top the list of tough-to-love most days. Considering there are others reading this site who have kids with similar issues, I wanted to share something that completely changed my relationships with them – my oldest in particular – for the better.
When she first came to live with me as a foster child, I had no clue about loving a hurt, mentally ill child. (Who does??) It was hard to connect with her, not just because she was grieving and suffered from post traumatic stress from all the moves she’d endured, but because no matter how much love I showed, she didn’t seem to get it. At a loss for how to overcome that, and because I’d read Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages years before, I started to try different love languages with her.
Dr. Chapman found, through his research, that people give and receive love in 5 primary ways, and each person “speaks” (or favors) one of the 5. He called these preferences “love languages,” and defines them as follows:
- Quality time – being with someone, with your full attention on them
- Words of affirmation – saying kind or empowering words to reveal support and love
- Acts of service – consistent willingness to help the other in their tasks and responsibilities
- Physical touch – affection, proximity and gentleness with another (sex is part of this too)
- Gifts – giving thoughtful, frequent (but not necessarily costly) gifts that show our care
It turns out my daughter’s love language is gifts. She gives elaborate homemade cards, flowers from the walk home from school, notes with pictures. She even takes forEVER to set the table for dinner because she specially folds napkins for each place setting. Learning my daughter’s love language was horribly awkward at first. (I had a score of 2 out of 12 for that love language on the assessment, after all!)
What kind of thing would she like? How often does she need to get gifts to feel fully loved by me? I wondered. She was only 3, and couldn’t tell me with words, so I was on my own to figure it out.
I struggled for a year or two, one day bringing her a shell from the beach, another day leaving a Hershey’s kiss in her preschool cubby. Some things worked well. Others bombed completely. I’ll never really know whether that was because she was just having a day of extra grieving from her loss or it was just a dumb way to speak “gift-giving.”
Its’ been almost 7 years since I began to learn her love language. Even though I still score like a gift-giving neanderthal (I took the assessment again today just to see!) giving her gifts is now as natural as breathing. My journey to learn her language is part of why she is no longer recognized as having reactive attachment disorder, despite all she went through early in her life. It is a miracle to behold the radiance in someone else when we take the time to love them in ways that are most meaningful.
Do you know your child’s love language? If not, it’s worth finding out. Save yourself years of frustration and take a moment to discover it with them. Check out Dr. Chapman’s site and take the quick love language assessment. I’d love to hear what you find out!