By Alison Bell
The other night my 14-year-old son started beaning me with pillows from the couch. “No,” I cried weakly, which only fueled his pelting power. There was nothing for me to do but return with pillow hits of my own, resulting in a full-blown pillow fight. Within a few minutes we both collapsed in giggles.
Ordinarily my reaction at the first pillow thwack might have been annoyance. However, that very same day, a co-worker had clued me into a book, The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary D. Chapman and Ross Campbell. This book is based on a theory set forth in Chapman’s previous books that people give and receive love in primarily one of five ways, or love languages.
The five love languages are 1) words of affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) receiving gifts, 4) quality time, and 5) physical touch. While children need to be communicated with using all five languages, each child has a primary love language he or she responds to. Some children, for example, may crave alone time with Mom more than anything. Others light up with praise or “I love you’s.” Still others feel the most cherished when their parents do something for them, such as make a special meal or an extra trip to school to fetch a forgotten school book.
With this enlightenment, I translated my son’s pillow fight as his need for physical touch. As a baby and toddler, he’d been very cuddly, and he’d always enjoyed wrestling with my husband and his older brother. Of course, since no 14-year-old boy would be caught dead holding Mom’s hand or giving her a hug, touching with the literal cushion of a pillow between us was his way of expressing this need.
Several of Hillsides therapists use the five love languages when counseling families and in parenting classes. Cindy Real, the director of Hillsides Family Resource Center – South Pasadena, says that the trick to speaking your child’s love language is that often, it’s not the same one we speak. “We tend to give the way we like to be given to, but that’s not always what our children want,” she says. For example, you may love to be given gifts, so you’re always picking up presents for your children, when what they really want is to spend more time with you.
Real suggests stepping back, separating your needs from your children’s, and noticing what style of affection they respond best to. Feel free to experiment – writing a note just to say “I love you” or bestowing more hugs, and gauging their reaction. Also, you might want to take the quiz with your children. If they are old enough, you can give them this quiz to help them identify their love language. Then, once you are on to your child’s love language, you can offer it in a steady supply.
This Valentine’s Day, think about what gift of love your child really would enjoy and try to provide it – even if, surprisingly, the answer turns out to be a pillow fight.
Alison Bell serves as the communications and development associate in Hillsides advancement services and is an author and writing instructor.