If love is a language, then teach your family members to become conversant. According to Gary D. Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages, people experience love in five ways. We experience love through words of affirmation, by spending quality time together, by receiving gifts, by performing acts of service, or through physical touch. According to Chapman, every person on earth has a primary "language of love."
I understand what Chapman means when he says every person processes love uniquely. And I also think that there is much to be gained by playing around with all the love languages and encouraging members of our families to do the same.
Which acts of love make you feel seen, appreciated, and cherished? What about your spouse and the kids? We can all learn to communicate what we like and need to our family members, so everyone can get their needs met and no one has to end up feeling misunderstood or neglected. Here are ten ways to increase family affection at home:
Set a loving example. If you want your kids to have self-esteem and so they can live the best lives possible, you have to teach them to love themselves first and foremost. Unfortunately, if the parents can't model this, the children are not likely to learn it, at least not from them. So, take good care of you first, and then take good care of your brood. Love yourself and care for yourself so you can best love others and care for others.
Personalize "I love you" for each family member. Childhood nicknames can create affectionate moments in later years. If calling your child by a nickname will offend, even in private, then express the sentiment in whatever way the recipient will hear you best. Forget how you want to say it, and opt for what will garner the most positive response from your child.
Don't forget, "We all love you." Get in the habit of speaking for the whole family. A family is a "we," and love goes at the center of this complex constellation. This does not mean your toddler, teen, or college grad will always be eager to express emotion. So go ahead and be the voice of the whole family, as needed. Then, once you have spoken for all, let even a begrudging nod of agreement be enough.
Love life and it will love your family back. Your attitude towards life is either going to inspire or haunt your family. You may think you are being realistic, but if you constantly chorus that life isn't fair, that money doesn't grow on trees, and oh well, it could have been worse, your kids are going to grow up expecting life to let them down. Sure, life can be a bumpy ride sometimes, but never forget that it's unconditional love and positive encouragement from the people we love most that makes the challenges more bearable.
Encourage family members to express what they need and want. You can't give people what they need and want if they don't know what that is. Offer extra support to a family member who can't identify what she needs and wants. Don't let her always sacrifice her opinion for whatever the rest of the group wants. Every member of the family needs to know how to dig deep and express her own point of view. If you ask for wants and needs, you'll encourage every family member to figure theirs out.
Spend quality time with each person in the family. Love should never be a competition. My daughter loves to spend daddy-daughter time with my husband, and I'm glad she does. They have the things they like to do together, like watching slapstick comedy shows on TV or going out to their favorite breakfast place. And my daughter and I have our favorite things to do like watching chick flicks or going shopping. Be sure to carve out quality time with every family member, including your spouse.
Teach kids to be caring to others. Teach kids how to make thoughtful gestures that make the most of their talents. Or get them out of the house and involved in assisting a good cause. If family members have trouble expressing care to each other, maybe they will have an easier time expressing affection and concern outside the family. If having you are around seems to make them less charitable, then let another trusted adult guide them.
Hug your family members at every age. It has been scientifically proven that hugging lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, so what more of an excuse do you need? If your older kids try to brush you off, tell them you have to hug them – it's for their good health. And, of course, encourage kids to receive hugs when they are struggling emotionally, so they don't become habitual sufferers.
Squeeze in small gestures of love. Find little ways to express physical touch, especially for those family members who try to shirk it. Squeeze a shoulder, pat a knee, rumple some hair, kiss your hand and then pat their cheek. And mix it up a little. It's when affection becomes rote that teens roll their eyes at you and groan. So, get creative and say it like you mean it. Catch them when they least expect it, and they won't have time to duck away.
Appreciate the attempt. Remember that there is no such thing as perfect families. Also remind yourself that sometimes love will flow more readily and easily between family members than other times. And when a family member tries to do something genuinely kind or nice, try to appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture. Don't let them be teased or called names for expressing affection. Love is a sign of strength, not weakness.
When it comes to love and affection, you can't always get what you want, but if you try consistently, you will find there are plenty of opportunities in any given day to acknowledge and appreciate the most important people in your life.
Sidebar: Sentiments to post around your home
Always tuck me in and kiss me goodnight.
I love you to the moon and back.
Hug it out.
We love you.
I love you for all that you are, all that you have been, and all you are yet to be.
There's no place like home.
Where there is family, there is love.
Love lives here.
Picture books about love and affection:
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBranty, Illustrated by Anita Jeram
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Clement Hurd
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Clement Hurd
Hug by Jez Alborough Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Sheila McGraw
On The Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
Christina Katz is an author and freelance journalist. She loves her family, her pets, the world, and what she does for a living. Her latest book is Permission Granted, 45 Reasons To Micro-publish.