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.