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The 5 Love Languages of Children, Part 3: Words of Affirmation

Welcome back! For the past two articles, I have introduced the five ways that children express love based on the book “The Five Love Languages of Children” by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. These love languages include physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, and acts of service. For a general overview, please review the article “The 5 Love Languages of Children, Part 1.” In my most recent article, “The 5 Love Languages of Children, Part 2,” I reviewed the first of the five love languages for children, physical touch. Today I will be exploring the second love language for children, words of affirmation, and how parents can incorporate this language into the relationship with their children. Words are important and children hear it all. From words of encouragement, to words of love, to words of frustration, children listen. Frequent words of affirmation, love, or encouragement are important for children to hear for they provide a positive foundation to which a child may build his or her sense of self, which includes a child’s self-esteem and self-worth. When a child hears negative statements from parents a child may internalize these words which inherently casts a cloud of doubt over the child and his or her abilities. As such, children should hear and be exposed to frequent words of affirmation.

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Before children can understand and interpret language, they can receive messages through multiple cues. For example, a child whose parent says “I love you” in a gentle, soothing tone while smiling at the child will create an emotional message of love and warmth, even if the child does not yet understand the construct of love. Children need these concrete concepts to learn. They cannot yet understand things that are abstract, such as love. Therefore, parents can teach children about love by how it is expressed. For example, the phrase “I love you” can be more meaningful for individuals when it is associated with affectionate feelings, demonstrated by tone and/or facial cues. As a child grows older, a parent can use words of affirmation in various ways, from stating “I love you” to saying, “You have a beautiful smile.”

I would also like to point out the difference between words of affection or love and praise. Words of love are about expressing appreciation for the child as a whole, while praise is used to refer to a child’s behavior.

Words of affirmation are an important part of expressing love in parent-child relationships. However, parents should be careful not to use praise too frequently. Parents who praise children too much run the risk of the words having little to no effect on the child. For example, a father is playing catch with his son. If the father says, “great catch” for every catch the son makes, the son will be unable to recognize when he actually does make a great catch. This can impact the son’s self-esteem and sense of worth. Furthermore, if a child grows up hearing frequent praise, this can lead to feelings of inadequacy or anxiety when the child does not receive praise for a behavior. At the end of the day, it is important for parents to praise children on wanted behaviors. In addition, a parent should believe the praise, not just say “great catch!” because he or she feels like it needs to be said.

Tune back next time as we continue to explore the love language, Words of Affirmation. More specifically, I will discuss what Chapman and Campbell refer to as “The Power of Encouragement,” as well as how to know if a child’s main love language is words of affirmation and what he or she may say about it.

If reading this article is helpful and you are interested in learning more about parenting or connecting with your child, therapy can be a great option to explore individualized cases. There are many different types of therapy available, including individual therapy, couples therapy, and/or family therapy. For more information, visit FAQ at Hilber Psychological Services or contact us to schedule an appointment.