In our recent blog post we discussed The 5 Love Languages of Children, by Chapman & Campbell and learned the benefits of using a child’s primary Love Language because it provides a direct way to connect with them. The 5 Love Languages of Children asserts that once parents start speaking in a language which the child understands fluently, communication improves dramatically. The child’s Love Language provides a fast lane to their attention and their hearts. To recap, the five Love Languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Services
This week we wanted to recognize the flip side of communicating via this direct link to her heart. Chapman and Campbell remind us to never use the primary love language to discipline or punish. Disciplining a child using her preferred Love Language, can be devastating. The message is received, amplified and taken to heart. If the discipline is delivered in anger, it crushes rather than corrects. The message keys directly into the lock that guards their most vulnerable part, sweeps over their defensive walls and strikes.
Think of it this way. Communicating via a Love Language opens and activates their deepest vulnerabilities. Instead of strengthening a connection and creating a positive experience, it delivers a sucker punch. This damages the relationship—especially when done in the heat of anger and frustration. This result is counter to our intentions as adoption-attuned parents who are committed to relationship building.
Chapman and Campbell devote an entire chapter of The 5 Love Languages of Children to the topic of anger. This may seem an odd concept to discuss in relation to Love Languages. Yet we all know that anger often accompanies parental efforts to discipline (and the child’s response to it). It is easy to lose sight of the education and training purpose of discipline and instead to concentrate on the punishment part. This serves neither child, parent nor the relationship. In fact, it damages both and it teaches a child to build higher walls to ensure protection from similar encounters in the future. Instead of learning from parents, they learn to fear connection with parents. Instead of heeding the parental message, the child tunes it out--and they miss the chance to acquire the missing skill that precipitated the need for discipline in the first place.
As adoptive families, we have a deeply vested interest in raising children with a strong emotional literacy. Adoption is inherently colored with complex feelings. It is up to us to educate our kids on how to express and cope with this crazy quilt of emotions. We must teach them that all of their emotions are welcome. In the absence of clearly conveying this openness, kids are left to struggle unsupported as they wrestle with the feelings of grief, loss, curiosity, joy and anger that is part of life in an adoptive family.
Chapman and Campbell further suggest that parents resist the urge to stifle children’s anger—especially verbal anger. It is after all, far better to use angry words than fists or other kinds of violence. Anger is a real and valid emotion and children need to be trained on how to express it productively, safely and with respect. Like all important learnings, this takes time and practice, (and good parental modeling.) For further exploration, read the entire book. It is chock full of strategies for parenting with compassion, respect and healthy relationship in mind.
Adults have primary Love Languages as well. Consider how these communication lessons can benefit our relationships with our spouse or partner. Commit to learning the Love Languages of your family members. (And to use them wisely.) Many benefits result when "love tanks" are full. Happy parents are the hub of happy families!
When we love deeply, we express it in many ways--a thoughtful gesture, a loving touch, a heartfelt note or simply altering our schedule to ensure time spent together. Yet all too often, these expressions go unacknowledged. Even worse, they can occur without ever making a difference. Spouses, children and lovers complain of feeling unloved, unnoticed and unimportant. Communication is the holy grail of interpersonal connection and is especially elusive when parenting kids after trauma. Connection, we know, is the channel for love, self-regulation and for healing. Until our children feel love, they will continue to languish and will resist our attempts to influence, discipline or connect with them. We are left puzzled and frustrated.
Often a behavior that feels loving to one person may be totally ineffective for the other. It is like a radio station that is improperly tuned in; one hears lots of static an occasional word, but the core message is lost in translation.
Gary Chapman's landmark book, The Five Love Languages, provides a remedy to this communication mismatch and handle this dilemma. It allows us to move beyond the desire to connect and find a way that fulfills our intention. Our default inclination is to express love in the ways in which we most like to receive it. But, to increase the likelihood that our loved ones experience our expressions of love, we must communicate in their love language. We are called to step out of our comfort zone and engage through their love language.
The 5 Love Languages that Chapman identifies are:
Words of Affirmation
Acts of Service
If you are a person who hungers to hear, "I love you," you probably speak these words frequently with the expectation that your child/spouse/partner will get the message. But if words of Affirmation are not their language or they are uncomfortable verbalizing feelings their need will remain unfulfilled. One of you is broadcasting on AM and the other on FM.
What is the solution? First determine the love language for each family member, then INTENTIONALLY choose to switch to their channel. For example, if a child "hears" in Acts of Service, connect in his dialect. Perform small gestures--fluff her pillow, rub her feet, run a bubble bath, bake cookies, prepare her favorite food. Be creative not necessarily grand. Make sure your body language aligns with your intention. Thoughtfulness is key and deliver with a smile. If this feels like too much work, negative emotions will shine through and nullify your efforts.
Consider each language. Determine which is your preferred style and then do the same for every family member and significant relationship in your life. What do you notice? Which languages meld easily with your communication style? Which requires more effort, discipline and practice. What patterns do you notice between Love Language-comfort level and relationships that feel like less work?
Help family members to identify each other's languages. Practice intentionally connection using each person's channel. Notice what works best for both of you. As you all become familiar with the process, communication will become easier. You become attuned with one another. When under stress, you'll likely fall back to your own preferred channel. If you feel disconnected, review recent interactions and do a "language" check. Perhaps it is time to recommit to speaking their language and to "translate" your intentions into their dialect. Reset and re-engage.
Chapman has written several books that address this topic and then fine tunes it to different ages/groups. The five love languages are consistent, but he elaborates on strategies for implementing effective connection. Check them out. You just might find discover an important tool. Commit to the love language approach not only with your children, but also with your partner. Remember, happy, emotionally connected parents are the hub of a happy, emotionally connected family. The need to be valued and loved is primal and one of the most important gifts you can share. The Five Love Languages is one way of growing your intentional family together.
Everyone knows that children feel BIG emotions: anger swirls into fury, disappointment collapses into despair, happiness erupts into delight. They wear their emotions on their shirtsleeves where everyone can easily read them. One might easily dismiss their feelings as childish, trivial, or inconsequential; that would be a mistake. Their emotional life is as important and transforming as any adult's, even if they may struggle to manage or understand their feelings.
In fact, one of their most engaging and charming characteristics is their disarming honesty and their willingness to speak their feelings aloud. Although children's vocabulary is limited, the depth and authenticity of their feelings ring true.
A recent moment shared with my nearly-four-year-old grandson illuminates my point. He and I were on the floor in a sea of Lego pieces rummaging through them together in search of a particular brick. Out of the blue he turned to me and with palpable intensity said. “Naga, I love you.”
I melted in a swirl of reciprocal emotion. Feeling loved is a fundamental human need which each of us craves. When someone blesses us with the gift of a deep, loving connection, the experience is powerful...IF we allow ourselves the pleasure of trulyembracing it. Too often, we miss these moments because we are preoccupied with what is on our own minds and agendas. It is easy for a child to infer that his declarations of love lack value to us or--even worse--for them to believe that their feelings are a bother and a burden. This is tragic for both individuals. Nothing on our To Do List can outweigh the value of nurturing a child's spirit and teaching him the skill of connecting with others.
My grandson's heartfelt words are etched in my memory forever. Such is the power of speaking aloud what is cherished in the heart. I replied to him, “That makes me feel very special and I never tire of hearing you say that. Thank you.” He beamed in response as my words acknowledged his gesture. Of course, I also assured him that I loved him as well. Fortunately, in our family, we are all—adults and children—comfortable verbalizing words of love and affirmation. However, some individuals and families struggle with expressing deep emotion aloud; they “say” it without the shorthand of words. Read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman to learn more about alternative modes in which to communicate one’s love to another and/or read these blogs.
What coaching nugget does this anecdote offer us as Intentional Parents? Pause for a moment and recall a sweet memory when someone—spouse, significant other, parent, or child—spoke aloud the words I love you and you experienced them as genuine. Savor the memory and allow the positive feelings to flood over you. Notice how it energizes, comforts, and validates you. Choose a “trigger” to remind you and help you revisit this memory whenever you want or need to do so. Imagine being able to access this affirming moment in a time when you are struggling, lonely, afraid, etc. Notice the comfort it offers because it allows you to do something other than simply worry or be awash in overwhelm
Now consider that as parents we have the ability to help create these kinds of high octane moments of connection with our kids. We can speak the words that comprise their audio archives of connection, affirmation, and reassurance. It is easy for us as parents speak words of correction: to point out when and how they can and ought to do better. Imposing consequences, highlighting their misbehaviors, or reminding them of incomplete chores—all these interactions occur easily. How sad, that words of affection, acknowledgment, encouragement, and unconditional love are often harder to say.
I can attest to the healing and encouraging power of words that verbalize deep, mutual affection. Imagine intentionally filling our kids' childhood teeming with such memories. Now that would be a parental legacy of great worth. What if we set an Intention to proactively build these moments? How might that improve our family relationships, improve connection, and deepen attachments? What if we were as vigilant in our efforts to connect with our children and strengthen them emotionally as we are to correct their actions so they can be “better” people? What might we create as a family?
Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.
Listen to our podcasts on Adoption-attuned Parenting.
Read these book reviews by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift. They are written with an Adoption-attuned perspective.
1. Your newly-adult child who no longer lives at home, gets a tattoo. This violates your faith and your aesthetics. More importantly, the confrontational and demeaning CONTENT of the tattoo violates your Values in a profound way. How do you respond? How do you draw the line between him and his behavior/choice? What is your response? Do you ask him to cover up the tattoo in front of family, friends, neighbors etc? How does it affect the way you feel about him, his conscience, judgment, and moral standards? You know children speak the language of behavior; what is he telling the world through these offensive tattoos?
2. Adopted at seven, your daughter is nineteen and by choice no longer lives with you. She abuses alcohol, and several other addictive substances. You suspect she steals—or worse—to support her habit. How do you lead her out of this hell? How do you support her without enabling? Will you choose to involve the authorities?
3. You and your partner are both highly educated professionals who enjoy well-paid careers. Your son detests school. He graduated, but refuses to go to college. He wants to use his college fund to move to Los Angeles and pursue an acting career.
These examples may challenge your thoughts on parenting, acceptance and unconditional love. How do you sustain relationships in the face of deep breaks in family values, family traditions and/or societal expectations? Spend some time thinking about it. There is no simple solution, no one-size-fits-all strategy.
Consider this adoptive family’s real-life nightmare. They confronted one of these buckle-your-knees challenges to their “forever commitment”.
The Tell: A Memoir by Mags Karn chronicles a family walking through the unspeakable horror of sexual abuse perpetrated by one child against his sisters.
Their story began like so many, a couple decides to grow their family through adoption. First, they adopt a little girl. The family settles into a contented life. Soon, they adopt a second daughter. Again, life finds a rhythm of connection and satisfaction. The Karns become advocates for adoption of other “needy orphans”.
They learn of a medically-needy, slightly older boy whose life hangs on a thread. Adoption offers his only hope to get the medical treatment that might save his life. The Karns work to find a family who will adopt him. Time ticks away. Finally, the family decides to step up to the plate. He becomes their son; they become his Forever Family. Little do they suspect how they will be challenged to fulfill this commitment.
His illness, surgery, healthcare, and recovery place huge demands on the family. He defeats the disease and comes home to join the family. Shortly afterwards, the nightmare begins. The Karns realize he had been extremely traumatized by his pre-adoptive caretakers. Eventually they learn he was the victim of degrading and ongoing psychological, physical, and sexual abuse prior to his adoption. The placing agency withheld this information that might have prepared the Karns to help their son and to protect their daughters. And so their nightmare began.
This book is powerful on many levels. It is a cautionary tale that highlights the need for full disclosure prior to placement. It also reminds parents to pay attention to their gut. When something feels really “off” check it out. Do not dismiss it.
But The Tell is also a testament to one family’s commitment to all of their children, of how the carved a way to heal and protect their daughter and to still maintain a relationship with their son.
Hopefully, your commitment and unconditional love for your children will not be challenged to the degrees mentioned in this post. But, use these as a way of preparing yourself for the hard moments that will show up in your family relationships. Preparation is key to problem solving!
Through testing, we come to understand what it truly means to love unconditionally. By raising our awareness of how we interact with our children, we can better define and “live” unconditional love on a daily basis. Parents are human and don’t have all the answers nor can parents relate on a “perfect” level. Through constant vigilance and intentional recommitment, parents may model unconditional-love-in-action on a daily basis.