Several years ago I attended a conference which shared details about love languages. This changed my understanding of feeling loved and also inspired me to further research this area.
Just like some of us prefer to learn in a hands-on kinaesthetic way, while others might prefer to learn through listening, we have different ways that we like to give and receive love. The idea originated in relation to couples1 and has since been extended by Chapman and Campbell to parents/carers2 and school children3. Loving is organised into 5 languages2: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, and Acts of Service.
As part of their research, Chapman and Campbell asked young people how they felt loved. They often heard responses such as, ‘Well, my mum tells me she loves me, but she never spends any time with me’ or, ‘My dad plays with me but he has never hugged me…’ They suggest that if we can identify our children’s love languages and the ways that they prefer to feel loved, then we can speak the same language as them and reassure them that they are loved. “By speaking your child’s own love language, you can fill their ‘emotional tank’ with love” 2. The same can apply in our early childhood settings – if we consider how our children prefer to give and receive love we can build better attachments and enable them to feel safe and secure. Although we do not always use the word love, we have a professional love for the children in our care and we want them to feel secure, loved and valued. Here are some ideas on how we can identify and then speak the same language as our children:
- Words of Affirmation
Children who respond to verbal praise and encouragement. For example, a child who glows with pride when you have praised their contribution. Offering words of affirmation to a child makes them feel proud, worthy and valued. If we recognise this as one of our children’s love languages we can:
- Cheer them on in games and verbally encourage them when they try to achieve things.
- Tell them that they are special and regularly use words of endearment and affection towards them.
- Verbally praise their efforts by labelling the praise, for example, ‘Wow, I love the colours you have chosen!’
- Use encouraging words with children, for example, ‘You can do it!’ or ‘I like the way you shared your bike with Sarah. Taking it in turns is a great way to play with a friend.’
- Explain to them that it’s OK to make mistakes and value every contribution they make, regardless of their levels of success.
- Take photographs of their creations or pictures and display them with messages stating why they are so valued in your setting.
- Quality Time
Children who want to spend time with you. For example, a child who actively seeks out adult attention and wants to be near you in the setting. Spending quality time with a child tells them that they are important, and that we want to spend time with them. When we recognise that a child’s love language is quality time we can:
- Plan in specific time to spend with them during the week.
- Include them in daily activities and organise rotas to enable them to be with adults frequently.
- Listen and respond to their attention-seeking behaviour, it means that they need more attention.
- Offer them undivided and focused attention in small groups or on a 1:1 basis.
- Share meals together and ask them about their interests and fascinations.
- Create photo books about times we have spent together in the setting and reminisce together.
- Physical Touch
Children who want to be cuddled, hugged or held and want to cuddle, hug and hold others. For example, a child who sits on your lap, holds your hand, strokes your back, or snuggles into you during a story. Offering children positive physical touch makes children feel wanted, loved and helps to build a secure attachment. All children need a basic level of physical touch and our setting’s policies should acknowledge this, however, if we notice that a child we look after craves more physical touch than others, we can:
- Always greet them by getting down to their level and with a hug.
- Allow them to cuddle up or sit on your lap during a story.
- Comfort them with a cuddle if they are tired or upset.
- Offer them a ‘high 5’ or gently squeeze their shoulder when praising them.
- Gain their attention using their name whilst gently touching their arm.
- Play games that require physical touch like circle games (holding hands), rough and tumble or clapping games.
- Offer them positive touch throughout the day, for example, massage their back/shoulders, rub lotion into their hands or engage in a ‘thumb-war’ for fun!
- Receiving Gifts
Children who love to give and receive gifts and presents. For example, a child who brings you a treasured stone in the garden and tells you that you can keep it! Offering children gifts in addition to other love languages can reinforce the idea that you care. If we think that one of our key children appreciates gifts, we can:
- Hold the child in mind and make resources specifically for them.
- Pick a daisy or collect a shiny stone from the garden and offer it to them.
- Bring back a shell from the beach at the weekend as a gift for them.
- Value the ‘treasures’ that they give us for example, put that feather on display!
- Use tangible rewards with them alongside labelled praise.
- Follow their interests and plan activities that specifically cater for them.
- Acts of Service
Children who like to do things for others and enjoy having things done for them. For example, a child who offers to help you or who is thrilled when you offer to get them their shoes or coat. We are often teaching children to be independent, however, in order to feel loved and cared for some children want to be physically looked after through acts of service. If this resonates with one of our key children we can:
- Plan to do things specifically for them.
- Ask them to help with tasks at several points during the day.
- When a child asks for help, respond sensitively, decide if their emotional tank needs refuelling and if it does, jump in to help!
- Mend that toy that they have asked us to fix.
- Sit next to a child to help them work through a problem or task.
- Occasionally set up their favourite toys, rather than always encouraging the child to get them out.
- Make a list of their favourite activities and weave these into our weekly planning.
I really like the idea of considering love as a language and it fits with ideas from Reggio Emilia which considers young children as learning through a hundred different languages. Loving is included in the poem The child is made of one hundred4 and is a form of meaningful expression that we rarely consider with an early childhood setting.
So let’s learn a new language this summer – the language of love!
About the author
Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.
Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.
References and further reading
1 Chapman, G. (1992). The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
2 Chapman, G. and Campbell, R. (2012). The 5 love languages of children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing, p.17.
3 Chapman, G. and Freed, D. (2015). Discovering the 5 love languages at school. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.
4 The child is made of one hundred poem retrieved from: http://www.innovativeteacherproject.org/reggio/poem.php
You might like to look up the 5 love languages website: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/