Filling their love tank: The 5 Love Languages of Children

Each of us expresses love to others and feels loved by others in different ways. These can be categorized into the 5 love languages of physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gifts and acts of service. Most of us appreciate being loved in all 5 ways, but usually one way will speak to us more strongly than the others and is known as our primary love language.

Why do we need to know? Because it is possible to be expressing your love to your child (or spouse) in one love language (usually your own) and virtually ignoring the love language that makes them feel the most loved. Many children and adults can travel through life feeling unloved, regardless of the fact that their family members do indeed love them very much, they are just not expressing it in that person’s primary love language.

To find out which is the love language of your child, spouse, loved ones or yourself, there are several online tests. Reading “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman (and the rest of the series) will give you a much greater understanding and help you to be more accurate in your diagnosis.

Online tests:

Combine these tests with your own observations of how your child expresses love to you and others, what they ask for or complain about and discussions you have with them about what makes them feel most loved. I would recommend reading the books before you start as the best way to give yourself enough information to make a more accurate assessment.

Beware of pigeon-holing children into one love language too early.  Children need to be shown love in all 5 ways and it is difficult to tell their primary love language before the age of 6 or 7. They must also learn to express all 5 love languages. Who knows what their future spouse and children’s love language will be? Teens too will often go through periods of change so look out for this.

When discipline issues arise, first check your child’s love tank. If we ensure that our children feel well-loved then some issues will disappear without any other action on our behalf. Expect children to display childish behaviours. They are sinners just like you and we shouldn’t be surprised when they mess up. Be proactive and approach correction with a plan and calmness rather than anger and withdrawal.

Love must be unconditional. When you least feel like loving them is when they most need it. When you are having one of “those” days, take a break from the routine and spend 15 minutes filling their love tanks. We may not feel loving but we can still act in a loving way.

Teach children to fill other people’s love languages. Explain how siblings and parents in your family feel loved. Brainstorm ways the children can show love to each other. Take a few minutes regularly to plan with individual children one thing they can do to show love to a family member today. Make sure you demonstrate love for your spouse in front of the children.

Here are some specific ways that parents can show love to their children in each of the 5 love languages.

Physical Touch

  • hugs, kisses, cuddles
  • hand on back or shoulders while talking, passing by or during correction
  • back rub, massages
  • sitting on lap or cuddled up close
  • carrying or piggy-backing a child to bed rather than walking
  • wrestling, sock wrestling, rough and tumble, tickles
  • bumping on the way past, covering eyes, tousling hair
  • older boys like jostling, playful punching, high 5’s, bear hugs, contact sports
  • fathers need to be careful to continue displaying appropriate physical touch to teen girls
  • family prayer time before leaving the house in the morning including physical touch and goodbye hug
  • sitting or laying together on the bed and story time with cuddles as part of a goodnight ritual
  • finding them when you arrive home and give them a hug and kiss
  • games involving touch – Ninja, footsies, handsies
  • rub down or massage after sporting activity
  • pamper time with foot washing, manicures and pedicures, hair brushing and special hair-dos
  • teens may not want open displays in front of others. They may not respond openly to your physical touch, but may still want to receive it


  • rough touch, harsh or irritated touching, touching in anger or hostility and physically hurrying a child along.

Words of Affirmation

  • Cheer at sports games and give verbal encouragement throughout any kind of event or performance
  • Write thank you notes, encouragement, love letters, birthday card messages with depth and meaning. Make sure Dad writes messages in birthday cards as well as Mum.
  • Let them hear you praise them to others
  • Tone of voice and eye contact is important
  • Use words of appreciation for what and who they are, as well as words of praise for what they do or achieve
  • Avoid insincere or false praise and flattery. Do not give praise that isn’t genuine or deserved
  • Praise character rather than just achievement
  • Catch your child doing good and commend them for it
  • Lunchbox & whiteboard notes (Pop a small note in their school lunchbox for them to discover at lunchtime or for homeschoolers, Dad may write a message on the whiteboard before he leaves for work.)
  • Say “I love you” every day and do not connect it to any kind of condition (I love you, will you please….)
  • Write and post a real letter for the child to take from the mail box.
  • Send an invitation to your child for a special day or event you have planned.
  • Yearly reflections from Mum (Keeping a written record of achievements, milestones, special events and other information about each child. Perhaps in a photo album as part of your scrapbooking.)
  • Birthday letters from Dad (Imagine having a letter from your Father every year of your life tucked away. It could be filled with encouragement, advice, memories or anything that communicates love.)
  • Praise plates


  • Talking negatively about your child to others, especially in their hearing
  • Teasing, ribbing or put-downs
  • Criticism and harsh words. Do not allow your frustration to come out in cutting words or sarcasm.

Quality Time

  • One-on-one time is important. Have a routine and spend time early in the day doing something together with your child before expecting them to spend time alone, even if it is only for 15 minutes. (Older children will happily wait if they know that there is a regular time planned for you to be together.) Use daily events as opportunities to spend time alone with individual children e.g. Roster one kitchen helper who helps to prepare dinner each night. Plan quality time into your day so that the time is already designated and set aside. You are then less likely to feel like you should be doing something else.
  • Take one child with you whenever you run errands. Perhaps incorporate a special treat while you are out.
  • Occasionally plan parent/child dates that are over and above the ordinary. (Don’t forget to plan dates with your spouse too!)
  • Plan family nights, holidays and special events to do together.
  • Maybe you need to remove something from your life so that you have the time for each child. TV perhaps?
  • As teens (especially boys) grow and mature, they often need to be doing something with you to open up and talk. Consider planning to have a pool table, ping-pong table, car to fix up or some other hobby that allows for communication while doing something.
  • Be open to the “window of opportunity” for sharing. Time in the dark before bed is an excellent time for this.
  • Eat meals together as a family, without a television on in the background.
  • Kidnap them from school at lunchtime as a surprise (arrange this with the teacher first!) and go for a lunch date together.
  • Go camping together
  • Go for a walk around the neighbourhood.


  • Gifts need not be expensive to be appreciated. Something thoughtful will be treasured too. Be aware though, that the occasional investment into a larger gift is required or the message may be that they are not worth much.
  • The little bibs and bobs they make for you are important – regard them with appreciation
  • If you are away, bring home a gift.
  • Gift giving must come with the other love languages to express true love. If emotional love tanks are empty, a gift will not fill them up alone and may in fact be treated with disdain. A trip to the shopping centre together to choose new PJ’s for winter covers quality time and gift giving.
  • Do not use gifts as bribery.
  • Avoid excess. If gifts are given in vast quantity they lose their specialness.
  • Take care in choosing gifts. If the gift is given with love and thought, a gifts child will love it just because it came from you. If they perceive that you have not made any effort with the choice it cheapens the gift.
  • When you hear them comment on something that they like, make a note of it and refer to this list when it comes time to choose a gift. Perhaps add smaller items to your Mummy and Daddy shop for siblings to purchase from.
  • Occasionally give a gift “just because,” not just on a birthday or Christmas.
  • Wrap up any item you would usually just give to your child. New shoes, a hat for summer, a new school lunch box etc. Paper and bows are important and beautifully presenting the gift makes it doubly special. If a gift comes with little pieces, wrap them all separately and perhaps have a treasure hunt to find them. Do not rush the opening process; it is part of the experience.

Acts of Service

  • Generally it is a good idea to only do things for your child that they are unable to do themselves. We want to promote diligence and a hard-working attitude. However, an acts of service child will love you to dry them after their shower, brush their hair, dress them, put their shoes on or any other task that they are quite capable of doing for themselves every now and again.
  •  If they ask you to do something for them or fix something, make an effort to do it quickly. It means more to them than it does to others.
  • If help is requested and is genuinely needed, give it as soon as you can.
  • Time together working on projects, cleaning something they want cleaned or achieving something they would like done will be appreciated.
  • Occasionally do one of their chores for them and when asked why, tell them it was just because you love them.

Praise plates, character and love languages

We occasionally use reward systems to boost the tone of interaction between siblings and reinforce good character. While our marble jar and treasure tree were an enjoyable way to focus on building positive family identity, they do come with a reward and as such I do not always use them. I do not want the children to get the impression (however subtle) that it is only worth displaying good character if there is something in it for them.

We have just reinstated our praise plate system which we have used and loved in the past. The children have in fact asked for it more than once. It is very simple to set up. Each family member uses one and a half paper plates to make and decorate a pocket (see photo above) using art and craft materials. A bunch of paper slips are cut up and left handy with some coloured pens and we are ready to go. Whenever I or one of the children notice another family member displaying positive character in any way, they write it down on a slip and pop it into that person’s praise plate.

The focus is on character rather than physical attributes and they are not allowed to write them for themselves or point out their own sterling qualities! Some examples are: G showed hospitality today when she greeted Mrs Smith with a lovely welcoming smile and hello. B showed kindness today when he tied his brother’s shoe laces for him. C was very helpful to Mummy and served our family by preparing a delicious salad for lunch. S showed initiative by putting away her ironing before she was asked to do it. The possibilities are endless and the children get better at writing their own as they hear more and more examples.

Older children write their comment and the younger children draw a picture and dictate their praise comment to be written underneath.

Occasionally when there are a few minutes spare before dinner or at an opportune time, all the children are instructed to sit down and complete at least one slip for every other person in the family. This insures nobody is left out and gives me a wonderful way to use those spare moments before a meal is served. My husband and I also take the time to write out several slips for each child and each other and slip them in the praise plates.

This great character chart helps us think of different qualities we want to commend and recognise and prompts us as we think of what we can write. Catching our children doing the right thing is such an encouragement to them.

On Sundays after lunch we stay at the table together and read each person’s praise slips out loud for all to appreciate. This is a wonderful way to fill love tanks and particularly speaks to those children who have words of affirmation as their primary or secondary love language. If you have never come across the idea of love languages, I strongly suggest reading Gary Chapman’s book “The 5 Love Languages.” The 5 Love Languages website is also helpful, with diagnostic tests to determine the love language or your children, spouse or yourself. If you are someone who finds it difficult to speak encouraging words consistently, or tend to be critical with your words, this is an excellent way of ensuring that those ‘building up’ words are heard by your children.

Other posts you may find helpful:

Sizzlers and grace

Spoiled walls – bickering and sibling conflict

Sibling relationships

Easy home-made no sugar icecream

No weird ingredients, 5 minutes to make (plus freezing time) and no sugar or other additives. Oh, and very tasty too! This “icecream” fools everyone I serve it to and they can’t believe that there are only two ingredients. Great for a healthy no sugar snack for the children, morning or afternoon tea or for a casual dessert when you have guests.

Simply peel a bunch of bananas (I did about 8 small bananas), wash and hull a punnet of strawberries or a couple of kiwi fruit and throw them in the freezer for a few hours. When you are ready to serve, process a quarter of the mixture at a time in the food processor, blender or thermomix and there you have it – pink or pale green icecream that is as delicious as it looks. You won’t believe there is no sweetener or additives of any kind. This amount of fruit topped about 14 cones with the equivalent of a generous icecream scoop ball of icecream. And best of all, it has a wonderful creamy flavour that really does taste like icecream. No leftovers here!

I imagine you could add pretty much any other fruit you like for a different flavour as long as it is approximately 2/3rds banana . A dash of vanilla tastes good too. I have found that it is easier to mix if the bananas are taken out a little bit before you need them so that they are not quite rock solid, but I have also mixed them straight from the freezer as well. Adding a little natural yoghurt or cream helps get the mix blended when they are rock hard.

The kids enjoy the cones in particular so look for some with low sugar and no harmful additives. When guests pop in unexpectedly there is always something special to pull out. With a birthday around the corner I am going to experiment with layering several different flavours to make icecream cupcakes or perhaps icecream sundays. With a sprinkle of nuts and coconut curls on top they should be a hit.

Other posts you may like:

   No (or low) sugar snacks for kids