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!
In last week’s blog we explored the Mirroring and Belonging level of the Relationship Pyramid and discussed how important it is for a child to learn an extensive Emotional Vocabulary. Having the ability to name and recognize various emotions in oneself allows a child to recognize similar feelings in others. This is the basis for congruent and harmonious interactions.
Mastering the subtle, non-verbal social cues is a daunting task. For kids with a less than smooth start in life, often this skill is poorly developed or is overwhelmed by hyper-vigilance. Unless children are taught how to read the “secret” messages of body language, some kids will never learn it. This will leave them confused and often can lead to social isolation.
When they don’t speak the language of behavioral cues children remain on the outside of the emotional/social conversation. The subtle hints other kids give may quickly become far less kind and patient and become mean and lead to bullying. A growing gap will arise.
Without adequate social skills, a child will struggle to mirror the emotional states of others and may respond inappropriately to the overtures of other children and adults. Instead of feeling “mirrored” they may misinterpret other people’s responses and feel mocked and unsupported. Even worse, they may feel threatened which might trigger a complete meltdown, and/or a flight/flight/freeze response. This creates a disconnect in the Mirroring & Belonging level.
How can you assist your child in mastering the complex task of emotional literacy and the language of social cues?
One excellent resource is a marvelous book by Julia Cook titled, “Personal Space Camp.” With a deft sense of humor and zany illustrations by Carrie Hartman, this book tackles the complicated concept of personal space. Louis, the confused main character loves the world of outer space. But when it comes to personal boundaries, Louis is clueless. His frustrated teacher arranges for him to attend “Personal Space Camp.” This thrills Louis. He is surprised to learn that he will not be an astronaut exploring.
Louis is, however, entering unexplored territory: the world of personal space boundaries. "Personal Space Camp” is entertaining and informative without being preachy. It conveys important information that will assist kids that lack an understanding of social cues.
Julia Cook has written several other books that delve into the confusing world of social cues and interaction. One that is also quite helpful is, “I Can’t Believe You Said That.” (Illustrated by Kelsey De Weerd, it features multicultural characters.) The story helps kids discern the difference between saying something true: ”You are fat,” versus something that is appropriate: “You are a good cook.”
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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.
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.
Adoption is an emotionally intense topic. Nurtured in love but with its roots firmly planted in loss, it is important to respect the feelings and sensibilities of the adoptee, his birth parents and his adoptive parents.Through our cherished children w are forever connected. We all benefit when we hold one another with respect and compassion. Read more of Gayle Swift's guest post on Adoptomist.com
Sally: 612-203-6530 | Susan: 541-788-8001 | Joann: 312-576-5755 | Gayle: 772-285-9607