Parenting books can be a treasure trove of good advice and information. Problem is, we’re so busy parenting that we seldom have time to read them! To help out, we thought we’d start a little ABBY&FINN book club - we read a parenting book for you and give you the CliffsNotes version. (Ok, maybe it’s a little less book-clubby and a little more how-some-teenagers-made-it-through-Sophomore-English, but you get the idea.) You get the book’s info boiled down for you. If that’s all you want, then there you go! If after you read the basic info, you think nope, no way, then you can be glad you didn’t read the whole stinking book. And if it sounds like a topic you’d be into learning more about, follow up with reading the book yourself for greater detail.

The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman

You know how someone posts a picture before they leave the garden center with the back of their car crammed full of foliage and they’re all like plants are my love language? Or when you’re sitting at a Mexican restaurant and someone declares that tacos are her love language before she crushes that carne asada? Well, that all stems from author and counselor Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secrets to Love That Lasts. And you know what? Right now that book has 50,678 reviews on Amazon and a 5-star rating! (Full disclosure - never read the book. BUT, years ago I did take the online quiz and read about the five love languages. Acts of Service if you want to make me feel loved, thank you very much.) So anywho, Chapman also has a book called The 5 Love Languages of Children that promises to strengthen your relationship with your child. And it’s got 5-stars and 7,481 reviews. So I figured I’d take a read to see what all the review and star excitement was about and find out if the book had information I could use to improve me as a parent. Here goes!

The Gist:

Basically, the book offers the same message and framework as The 5 Love Languages: Everyone has a way that they experience and express love, and those ways fall into five different categories or languages. The best way to make your child feel loved is through their personal love language. A child who feels loved has a full emotional tank (lots of emotional tank talk in this book) and is happier and healthier and has a good relationship with her parents. An important distinction the book draws is the difference between a child being loved (come on, we all love our kiddos) and the child feeling loved which is based on the child’s perception. Parents must learn to say “I love you” in a way their child understands because “only the child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do her best.”

The Details:

So what are these Five Love Languages?

The book clearly defines each language and gives concrete examples of each one. The languages are:

  1. Physical Touch - hugs, kisses, sitting in your lap while reading, wrestling, back rubs before bed, etc. It’s the easiest love language to use unconditionally, but many parents don’t touch their children as often as you’d think.
  2. Words of Affirmation - words that express or affirm love, praise and encouragement, affection and endearment.
  3. Quality Time - focused, undivided attention for your child. It can be hard for parents to give due to so many other demands.
  4. Gifts - the gifts given are a symbol of love, but to be meaningful, they must be given alongside other love languages as well. (Chapman makes the caveat to not choose presents over being present with your child.)
  5. Acts of Service - kind of what all parenting is, serving children full-time and teaching them to learn to serve themselves. Daily acts of loving service done without resentment or bitterness are what count as acts of service.

At the end of each descriptive love language chapter, there is a list of doable action items a parent can do to incorporate the love language. There’s also a section within each specific love language called “What the Children Say” with quotes from kids in which they explain how they feel loved by their parents in that particular language. It mostly relates to kids aged elementary school through high school, but it got me thinking about ways in which I might have overlooked an opportunity to show my children more love or how I may have felt something was insignificant when it really mattered to my younger kids.

And just how do you figure out your child’s love language?

The book states that children will go through phases where they test out each language similarly in how they may test different interests or hobbies. So be cautious and don’t label them too early - their love language may evolve over time. Steps to determine your child’s love language are:

  1. Observe how your child expresses love to you - does he tell you that he loves you often or does he prefer to snuggle and hug you more? (Words of affirmation or touch)
  2. Observe how your child expresses love to others - does she want to take gifts to her teacher and friends? (Gifts)
  3. Listen to what your child requests most often - does she ask you to play with her frequently or does she ask you what you think of her drawing? (Quality time or words of affirmation)
  4. Notice what your child most frequently complains about - is he frustrated that you “work too much” or that “we never play together”? (Quality time)
  5. Give your child a choice between two options - let your child choose between options like playing a game together or making a special treat.  (Quality time or acts of service)

The book offers various examples and the love languages they convey. It also gives a framework for a 15-week long experiment to determine your child’s love language. Again, it seemed slightly more applicable to older kids, but not unhelpful in thinking about what children request or do and what it says about their love language. The biggest takeaway for me was that knowing your child’s love language gives you the most effective means through which to communicate love to your child when he or she may need it most. Your kiddo understands your expression of love best when it is delivered through his love language.

My Opinion:

Welllll…..I wholeheartedly agree with the book’s message - that one exceedingly important aspect of parenting is to meet your child’s need for love - and the framework provided is helpful. But, I think the message could just as effectively be conveyed in a lot less pages. (And this is coming from someone who is rarely accused of being succinct.) There was a lot of repetition and anecdotes that felt dated and hokey and always ended happily with a lesson learned à la Berenstain Bears style…like one that involved a family in the west with a wagon getting stuck in a creek. (I had to go back and check the publication date after that to make sure we weren’t talking 1850 here.) But, happy-ending anecdotes and campiness aside, I did have some more substantive complaints.

For one, the book is very heteronormative and has what feels like dated ideas in terms of gender roles for both parents and children. The focus of the book is most definitely on a two-parent, mother-father household, so there’s that. If you are a reader who wants current case studies, statistics, and hard science to back up the framework, this is not the book for you. It is far more anecdotal based on Chapman’s workshops as a counselor and stories from his participants - some dating clear back to the Vietnam War - which can be fine. Just know that you’re not going to be hit with a lot of science so if that’s something you want in a parenting book, maybe skip this one.

The book also has a lot of Christian overtones and quotes a number of bible verses, sometimes as evidence. Again, if that’s not your cup of tea, leave this one on the shelf. I also feel like I have to say the book seems fairly critical and reductive when it comes to single-parent families. It may be hard for some to separate that message from the book’s information.

All that being said, the book did get me thinking about how my children perceive the love I am showing them. I show them love, but I’ve never fully taken into consideration how they perceive the love I show them, which is the really important part! The 5 Love Languages of Children got me thinking about shifting the focus to how my children feel and what gives them the most security. Their love languages are different from mine and while someone emptying the dishwasher or cooking me dinner makes me feel loved, for my kiddos, it’s far more about sitting down with no other distractions and playing Sleeping Queens or building Play-Doh cupcakes. A child who feels loved unconditionally, can and will respond to parental guidance and feel emotionally secure. That’s a big message of the book and one that I plan to incorporate into my daily parenting choices.

So, some food for thought from The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman. Those are the basic takeaways and if the book seems like something from which you may draw parenting insight, you may want to invest a little more time with it. If not, consider yourself prepared enough to pass that Sophomore English quiz and let’s move on!