Teaching My Children How to Love

Leave it to the author himself to upend my understanding of the “love languages”.

Before hearing Gary Chapman speak a few years back, my understanding of love languages went like this:

We all show love through five basic ways — Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch. 

We each have a preference, a way that makes us feel the most loved. So the trick with family and friends is to identify their preferred love language and to express our love for them accordingly.

Identifying my loved ones’ love languages, it turns out, was pretty simple. My husband and I took a quiz to understand ours, and my children’s are readily apparent.

My son asks “Mommy, will you play with me?” 10 times a day and literally jumps for joy when I respond with a “yes.” (Hello, Quality Time!)

My youngest routinely asks me, “Mommy, did you see what I did? Did I do a good job?” (Insert Words of Affirmation.)

My oldest beams when I buy her anything. (Gifts, gifts and more gifts.)

I was pretty proud to have figured that all out.

Quality Time in action

But then, a few years back, I attended a Hearts At Home conference and heard Chapman say this:

“The most successful adults are those who are fluent in all five love languages.”

It’s a simple statement. But, for me, it was a moment of extreme clarity.

I realized that my job isn’t just to identify my children’s love languages and to love them accordingly.

My job is to teach my children to recognize, give and receive love in all its forms.

That’s a different challenge altogether, and that understanding has changed how I parent.

I still attempt to love my children and husband in the way that suits them best.

Two things, however, have changed.

  1. We talk a lot more about what love looks like.

My husband, for example, is not a big “I love you” guy. Words aren’t his forte. 

But he is patient beyond belief. He routinely brings home bouquets of flowers, jumps up for middle-of-the-night kid duty without complaint, makes sure the snow tires are on when the snowflakes start flying … . His love language is Acts of Service.

So I say to my kids now, when he does those things, “That was so nice of Daddy! That’s one way that he shows he loves us!”

Sometimes we’ll even take turns listing ways to say “I love you,” be it sharing favorite toys, going to work every day, cleaning up the house, helping a sibling with chores or giving someone a hug.

For them, it’s a game. For me, it’s vital education.

  1. I have committed myself to try to love each of my children using all five love languages every day. (Key word: Try.)

Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch are easy for me. I’m a born snuggler and lover of words. (Me, every morning as I hug my children awake: “Good morning! I love you!” And then, when they whine, “Mommy, it’s too early!,” I truly prove my love by biting back my snarky response.)

I’m hit-and-miss on Quality Time. I also thoroughly admit it’s easier now that my kids have aged beyond the tedium of sitting on the floor and passing a rattle back and forth or, heaven help me, wanting to play Candy Land. Catan and soccer are far more stimulating.

My biggest struggles are the remaining two categories: Acts of Service and Receiving Gifts.

Why? Because, in reality, parenthood is just one long stretch of serving our children and buying them stuff. If I run to Target to buy my daughter a T-shirt so she can participate in Purple Day at school, does that count as an act of love? Or is that just life?

I, for real, don’t know. I’m just trying my best.

“The most successful adults are those who are fluent in all five love languages,” Chapman said.

I don’t know how he defines success.

But to me, success for my children means they grow up being kind, generous, empathetic and self-confident.

Knowing how to love? Knowing how to be loved?

That’s the foundation of all things good.

Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.


  1. Love this! I’ve found my kids’ love languages changed over time, so be on the lookout 🙂
    Good content and reminders for us all


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