I used to clean when my mom got upset.

I cleaned because I knew it would make her feel better. Sure, I could have hugged her or told her how I thought she was a great mom, but I instinctively picked up on the fact that I made my mom the happiest (i.e. she felt loved) when I cleaned the house for her.

It wasn’t until much later in life, after reading a particular book, that I realized my mom best receives love through acts of service. That is, she feels most loved when others do things for her. That’s why she felt better whenever I cleaned the house.

When I got married, I learned that not everyone woman best receives love the way my mom does. I quickly learned that cleaning our little apartment did nothing to make my wife feel better. This lesson – that we best receive love in different ways – wasn’t limited to my wife.

We naturally give and receive love in different ways

It took me a few years of marriage to figure out that I feel most loved by my wife when she and I spend quality time together. When we go out on a date night, I feel very close to her.

My wife, on the other hand, feels most loved when I exude appreciation and affirmation for her – when I tell her how much she means to me. Once I finally figured this out, I stopped trying to show her love the way I best received it and instead started being intentional about showing her love the way she best received it.

That awareness did wonders for our marriage. Then I filed that lesson away somewhere deep in my brain. That is until it was rattled back out a few months ago when we took a personality test.

The five love languages

My wife and I took a personality test that – not exaggerating here – changed our marriage. We gained some brand new insights into each other that we had never known, even after nine years of marriage.

When we took the test, we also couldn’t help but apply it to our kids. We learned, for example, that our son is sensitive to tone. As we started thinking about our kids’ personality types and how to best parent them, that old lesson got rattled loose from the filing cabinet in my brain and plopped out in front of me.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I need to learn how my kids best receive love.”

So, I picked up a book by Gary Chapman called “The 5 Love Languages” that talks about how each of us is hardwired to best give and receive love primarily in one of the following five ways:

1 | Gift giving – Showing love through giving gifts to another.

2 | Quality time – Showing love through spending quality (i.e. undistracted) time with another.

3 | Words of affirmation – Showing love through verbal affirmations, encouragement, and appreciation.

4 | Acts of service – Showing love through serving another (my mom’s love language and why I always knew to clean the house when she was down).

5 | Physical touch – Showing love through physical affection to another.

This isn’t some self-help guru’s nonsensical theory. A 2006 research report showed how these five love languages actually come from preexisting academic research on “relational maintenance behaviors.” In other words, these languages, which have resonated with millions, are academically supported.

How to love your kids the way they best receive it

When our little ones are babies, they’re easy to love. We just have to hold them, talk to them, and take care of their basic needs. But once our kids start walking and talking, their love languages start developing quickly.

After applying the love language lessons to my children, I realized my daughter loves physical touch. She always wants us to hold her and rock her. My son, on the other hand, is like a wet noodle whenever we try to hold him. He squirms until we put him down and then promptly asks us to play with him. His love language, we’ve learned, is quality, undistracted time.

Have you thought about the ways your child best receives love? Are you loving him or her how you naturally best receive it or how they best receive it?