Julie is a provisionally licensed therapist who thrives on helping people; she enjoys working with anyone who is looking for guidance and support through varying life transitions, changes, and challenges. Julie works with individuals of all ages, but especially loves working with tweens, teens, and their family members. As a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, Julie helps promote healthy boundaries and autonomy to the clients she works with and teaches valuable social and life skills. She is a native of Austin and loves helping people in the community she grew up in. Some of Julie’s favorite things about Austin include: the pedestrian bridge, kayaking on Town Lake, bluebonnets in the spring, and arguably endless options for Tex-Mex dining.
Showing Love to Your Child
If someone asked, “Do you love your teen?” you might be miffed that you were even asked. “Of course I love my teen” would be the response of many, and for any sarcastic parents out there, you might reply with “Yeah…most days”. Now, let’s take it a step farther, though… What if someone asked, “How do you show your child or teen you love them?” Some parents may answer by saying they give them hugs, while others say they make them breakfast every morning, while others may say they the words “I love you”.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to that question, per se. Especially because these are all ways to show love and care for someone…Thus, the real question to ask is: How do you speak your child or teen ’s love language?
A love language, as developed by Gary Chapman, reflects how you want to be shown (by others) that you are valued and appreciated–in whatever way that is. Love languages can differ from child-to-child and often change over time, too.
If you are curious about how to determine what your child’s love language is–ask! Asking someone “What makes you feel loved?” is a powerful question and has the potential to create a dialogue between you and them about your relationship. Some kids, especially tweens and teens, may not know the answer to that or how to put it in words–which is completely alright. If that is the case, you can also take you and your family can take the age-appropriate quizzes to identify your love languages; there are adult, teen, and child profiles. These quizzes not only help you determine your teen’s primary language, you can discover how you prefer to receive care too! It’s a win-win situation.
Introduction to the Love Languages
Let’s get familiar with the five love languages! I encourage you to guess your own, as well as your child, teen, or partner’s primary language as you read about them here:
- Physical Touch: Nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch
- How to speak this love language: Use body language and touch to emphasize love–give hugs, high fives, massages
- Things to avoid: Physical neglect, receiving affection coldly
- Words of Affirmation: This language uses words to affirm other people
- How to speak this love language: Encourage, affirm, appreciate, listen
- Things to avoid: Non-constructive criticism
- Quality Time: This requires giving undivided attention
- How to speak this love language: Uninterrupted and focused conversations, special time together
- Things to avoid: Distractions when spending time together (e.g.: cell phones, television, etc.)
- Gifts: For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift
- How to speak this love language: Give a meaningful gift, express gratitude when receiving a gift, remember that small gestures matter
- Things to avoid: Not making special occasions feel special
- Acts of Service: Think of the phrase: “actions speak louder than words”
- How to speak this love language: Offering to help by stating “I’ll help…” or “Let’s do this together.”
- Things to avoid: Lack follow-through on tasks, making requests of others a higher priority
Applying the Love Languages with Empathy
It’s important to note that just because someone’s primary language is words of affirmation, for example, that you don’t JUST always give words of affirmation. You should still spend quality time with your child and still give them hugs–it’s important to give love in well-rounded ways (keeping all of the love languages in mind), while being especially cognizant of their primary love language. This way, they don’t just know they are loved, but they actually feel it, too.
Being attuned to your child’s love language will also help you understand their needs better and will allow you to communicate with empathy–which will, in turn, create a stronger bond between you and your child. For example, let’s assume your teen comes home from school and they are upset about a failing grade they made on an exam. In these situations, especially, it is imperative to respond with empathy; meet them where they are. Replying with something like “Wow, you’re really upset…I know how much that grade meant to you” or “I bet you’re bummed about your grade…this class has been really difficult”. This will allow your child to be heard. Furthermore, they will know they are cared for. Taking it one step farther, speaking your child’s love language in this process will increase their sense of security, even if they perceive a situation as a mess-up or failure!
Preparing for Speaking Your Teen’s Language
As you speak to your child or teen with empathy, you can incorporate their love language using some of the examples below as a starting point:
- Physical Touch
- Give your child a hug or rub their arm
- Words of Affirmation
- In addition to the phrases written above, tell your child that you are proud of them, you support them, and that it is okay because they tried their hardest.
- If your child’s love language is words of affirmation, it could be damaging to greet your child with harsh criticism when they are upset over a bad grade. If you reply with words that are harsh and/or critical, this will only validate the negative thoughts they are experiencing about themselves.
- Go to a coffee shop and get some coffee or tea
- Parents might believe they are rewarding bad behavior if they give their child a gift after they come home upset about a bad grade. Keep in mind you wouldn’t say “Oh, you failed your test? Let’s go to Starbucks!” Rather, you would reply with an empathic statement (similar to the one written above) along the option to provide a small gift that might bring comfort (if appropriate).
- Acts of Service
- Offer to go over the test results with them and assisting them with making corrections (assuming this is an option) or help them study for the next test
Seeing the Love Languages as Your Toolbox
Parents are not required to ALWAYS speak their teen’s primary language, and it may not feel appropriate given certain circumstances. As mentioned above, if your teen’s love language is “receiving gifts” then getting them a gift of some sort (e.g.: coffee or tea) may not seem appropriate after they failed an exam. That is okay. Moreover, you can still speak the other love languages. All people, regardless of their age, are receptive to the other love languages, too. And, just because the example I provided was when something challenging happens, that shouldn’t be the only time you speak your child’s primary language. Rather, this is something that should be a regular part of your interactions with them.