Our children are often our greatest teachers. I have two daughters who now, at twenty-something, have enough life experience and the resources to know when a good thing comes along to share it. Our conversations keep me well informed about the latest trends, new ways of understanding complex contemporary issues, and often offer little gems of wisdom that make a lot of sense.
So many of our conversations are about the importance of developing ourselves in our place of work. We share what we believe to be success factors or how best to attend to interrupting hurdles, what approaches we might apply when team building, or what strategies to use when problem-solving. Our conversations are lively and constructive.
The last conversation we had was a little different, the focus swung away from the workplace and into our home – it was the sharing of ‘The five love languages’, developed by Dr Gary Chapman. Dr Chapman proposes that there are five basic languages of love, ways to express love emotionally. We thought about these languages of love and agreed that whilst Dr Chapman may have developed this checklist as a way for married couples to better connect, the same five languages would be a helpful parenting tool, too. Here is a very basic (but none-the-less hopefully helpful) summary of what Dr Chapman proposes:
- Words of Love and Affirmation – noticing and acknowledging the positive contributions made in our family circle, and articulating our feelings and observations using spoken or written language.
- Acts of Service – for the times when we hope ‘our actions speak louder than words’ – showing our love through acts of kindness and providing little services to one another.
- Giving and receiving of gifts – giving gifts is a universal gesture of love. Sometimes the smallest gift says the most about how much you love another. And often, the best reward is in the giving rather than in the receiving.
- Quality time – making time for those moments of undivided attention, when we can be truly engaged and interested in another – deeply connecting by being with each other.
- Physical touch – the emotional power that is embedded in a hug, in handholding, in arms around shoulders – these are ways to demonstrate our love for one another.
Whilst we would all benefit from being fluent in all five languages, each of us apparently has one primary language of love, and the sooner we know and understand what language makes the other feel most loved, the quicker and easier it will be to grow healthy in our relationships. As a parent, this may probably be different for different children. While each child is likely to respond to all five languages of love and thrive in feeling heard and understood; remember that one language will make more sense and therefore have greater traction and impact.
Families of today are so stretched, and children are hurried along, having to keep pace with the day to day demands. We often say, in the world of the early years, that the fastest way to speed things up is to slow right down. Perhaps pressing the pause button and thinking together as a family about which language makes each person feel most loved will play out in a positive and helpful way. It may also save a lot of disappointments, misunderstandings and grievances.
As Sigmund Freud proposed, there are two values that compete for centre stage – “love and work…work and love, that’s all there is,” he said. There are times when work or love might outweigh the other, but for the most part, no matter what we focus on, helping our children to compromise, to be considerate and to realise the importance of working towards the common-good will help them to be active and honorable in their workplace and kind and loving at home.
Whilst our children may turn out to be our greatest teachers, there is no greater training than in their observations of others. If we, parents and educators, take care to model appropriate ways of being, of becoming fluent in the languages of love and, when necessary, translating what may be misunderstood, then we can feel confident that our children will grow to be competent multilingual communicators at work and at home. And, in that, they will feel truly valued and much loved.
About the author
Cathy Milwidsky is the Director of Early Learning at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW