Connect With Black Children Through Their Love Languages
Learning your child’s love language is beneficial in more ways than previously thought, especially for Black children. Here’s how to do it.
By Whitney Roberts
Most of us are familiar with the term “love language,” originally popularized in the book The 5 Love Languages, written by marriage counselor Gary Chapman. The book describes how people with varying love languages not only receive but also show love in different ways.
Chapman identifies quality time, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch as the five love languages. We have heard the discussion of love languages typically around adults. But what about our children?
Our kids have love languages of their own, and ways they like to give and receive love. How do we, as Black parents and guardians, discover our children’s love languages? And how can we apply that knowledge to further connect with them?
Learning our children’s love languages can be helpful for many reasons in Black families. Many Black parents are coming away from family practices where children were raised “to be seen and not heard. Historically, these methods existed to protect our children. They came at a cost—children missed out on a chance to speak for themselves. Being aware of how our children want to receive and give love lays the foundation for self-esteem and awareness. It’s also a useful tool to affirm their personhood, even at the youngest ages. But before we can use our children’s love language to help them know themselves, we must identify their language.
“One way to find out how your kids like to be loved is to watch how they express love,” says Keethia Griffiths, MSW, director of family self-sufficiency at Achievability, a nonprofit fighting generational poverty through supportive services, community, and economic development and accountability programs and other efforts.
Identifying Your Child’s Love Language
Griffiths says if your child finds any and every way to cuddle, it may be a sign that their love language is physical touch. “Does your child love when they have your full attention? They may be telling you that they love quality time,” Griffiths says. “The key for us as their guardians is to be aware of what our kids are telling us about themselves through these actions and take note.”
Griffiths also cautions not to eliminate the other four love languages when we think we have discovered our child’s primary one. “It’s important not to completely rule out the other love languages once you’ve identified your child’s primary love language. Sure, they may be a “words of affirmation kind of kid,” but they also may love receiving gifts.”
Griffiths notes that many activities we choose to connect with our child’s love language have a multi-layered effect. One simple action may cross multiple love languages, further enforcing the bond between you and your child.
For example, it’s easy to see giving your child a new book from a series they are reading would easily fall under the “gifts” category. But this action could also be considered an “act of service” because you showed consideration for the activity that your child likes. If you decide to read the book together, it could even be considered quality time!
Leaning on the Village to Process Change
Griffiths says to remember that as our kids grow and develop, so will their primary love language. “As they get older, children’s love languages may shift. It is up to their guardians to be aware of those shifts and respond accordingly.” Griffiths also encourages Black parents and caretakers to partner with “their village” to discover and support their children’s expression and reception of love and see what teachers and other caregivers say about their children.
“In our culture, we view raising children as communal. It’s a community effort,” she says. “That’s why we say ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ one because it literally does! But two, because we are a communal people, raising our babies in this context teaches them the importance of the community as a whole as well as allows people like teachers, coaches, and authority figures to share their insight on our children.”
Griffiths says as parents, we have “one perspective of our kids, as “our kids.” But others have different insights based on their relationship to our kids.”
Using Our Children’s Love Languages as a Tool for Connection
Once you have discovered your child’s primary love language, you may be wondering how to connect with them through it. Here are some tangible ways to show your child love through each of the love languages:
For kids who connect through words of affirmation, find ways to affirm them daily. In the Black community, we have a rich history of “speaking over” our children, whether it’s respected religious leaders or beloved elders laying hands on them to bless them, this is an opportunity to tap back into that tradition. Whether you are using family passed down affirmations, creating your traditions, or using affirmation tools, find what works for your family. The benefits of affirmation have been documented, with one study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences linking self-affirmation as the initiator that propels Black children forward and creates an environment that nurtures their potential.
Here are a few other ideas: leave sweet notes in their lunch boxes, backpack, or room. Tell them when they do a good job, give them meaningful compliments, and express what you like about them. Make sure you affirm them, even when they make mistakes.
For children who love acts of service, find ways to do nice things for them daily. If they are working hard on a project or assignment, bring them their favorite snack while they work. Make their favorite meal. Offer to give them a ride or pick them up, so they don’t have to walk or take the bus. Find a nice way to surprise them with an act of kindness.
For kids who love quality time, be as present with them as possible. It has been observed that, unlike their peers of different races, typical Black kids tend to spend a lot of time with their parents, with the resulting time spent reducing symptoms of depression or anxiety. Therefore, as often as you can, make quality time a priority, especially if that is your child’s love language. Put away distractions as much as possible to be fully present with them. You can attend their plays, presentations, games, or matches. Set up a “kids’ day” or plan a date night for them. Find a hobby you both can enjoy together. Spark up a conversation with them about themselves. Find ways to involve them in your daily activities. Read a book together. Play one of their favorite games.
Parents of children who feel loved when receiving gifts should remember it’s less about the money spent and more about the sentiment behind the gift that says, “I love you, and I thought about you.” Be intentional about choosing gifts that affirm their cultural identity, like Black dolls or books with characters who look like them, which aid in our children’s racial socialization. You can also share an age-appropriate heirloom or item of emotional significance. You can also spend quality time helping them develop a collection of an item they’re interested in or scrapbooks add to that collection occasionally.
If your child connects through physical touch, show them love by being close. Of course, this may mean lots of snuggles and cuddles. But it could also mean sharing space while watching a movie or reading a book. Come up with your own “secret” handshake. Give your kiddo a piggyback ride, lots of high fives, ask them if they would like a hug, and offer to hold their hand when out and about.
Griffiths reminds us that the point of learning our child’s love languages and incorporating them into our everyday life is to establish and reinforce your bond. “Love languages are just a form of human interaction. Our kids are just newer humans. In understanding their love languages, we get to understand them.” And just being understood is a language of love we all can receive.