My arms were still sore from scrubbing the dark streaks of marker my toddler had happily scribbled, off our porous pine dining table. I turned toward my oldest daughter.
“I just told you not to leave your special (read; nonwashable) markers out where your little brother can reach them!”
Had I been talking to a brick wall? I knew I had indeed been lecturing my very own blue-eyed spirited little girl, as she had reminded me with intermittent wiggles and rebuttals throughout. I had in fact been speaking to her, but I was not speaking in her language, or in a way she would best connect with and process.
What was missing
Often parents mistakenly employ ‘one size fits all’ parenting strategies, whether they be the same techniques our own parents used with us, or something we’ve read or learned along the way that resonated. But here’s the thing, we are trying to connect with and guide our child, not ourselves.
When parents take into consideration that each child comes into the world with a mind and heart all their own, they can then explore the most effective ways to connect with and guide their child.
In the book The 5 Love Languages of Children, Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell lay out an amazing framework for parents to discover which of the five main types of connection are most meaningful to their child.
As our children grow, we can continue to observe the ways in which they show love to others, as well as what types of connection they seek out most. When parents pinpoint the primary love languages of their child, they are then able to connect and discipline in ways that will be both effective and emotionally supportive of their needs.
Words of Affirmation
If your child’s love language is words of affirmation they may be skilled in expressive or receptive language skills, and will light up when adults dole out verbal praise and affection.
How to connect with them: These are the children that are all about the ‘heart to heart’ sit-down- and-work-through-our-feelings talks. It is important that parents both speak and listen to these children with respect and empathy.
What motivates them to change behavior: Words of hope, encouragement and confidence communicated verbally or through writing such as, “I know you are an amazing and thoughtful brother, and certainly don’t want to hurt him, which is why I’m confident you’ll work on finding other ways to let your anger out”. Specific praise genuinely communicated in response to positive behaviors will go a long way.
If your child seeks out and responds positively to intimate one on one moments they value having an adult’s undivided attention.
How to connect with them: Parents can be intentional in scheduling consistent time for one on one interactions, taking special care to avoid interruptions from family members or distractions such as devices. The activity isn’t what’s significant as much as the intimate time together is.
What motivates them: Special activities such as reading, art or games that are uniquely shared between parent and child. Trips or outings to meaningful locations or events will likely serve as positive long-term goals.
If your child finds value and meaning in gifts they receive it is likely that they appreciate having a physical representation they can see and touch, of a parent’s love.
How to connect with them: Get to know what types of things are meaningful for your child and demonstrate this knowledge with a thoughtful presentation, such as new watercolors for a child who has a love of art, or favorite crackers from the grocery store.
What motivates them: Creating pictures or visuals to represent goals or responsibilities. Finding concrete tangible objects to represent behaviors such as a friendship bracelet to help prompt the child to ‘treat their sister with kindness’.
If your child eagerly receives and seeks out most expressions of physical affection, odds are they feel loved through touch.
How to connect with them: Go the extra mile to figure out what types of affection the child prefers. For instance, do they seem to prefer gentle touch or deeper pressure? Find times throughout the day to incorporate physical touch into routine such as a back scratch at bedtime or spontaneous kisses during homework time.
What motivates them: Positive reinforcements through touch such as high fives or hugs and special activities involving physical touch and movement, such as playing sports together or having ‘piggyback ride time’.
Acts of service
If your child takes notice when you go above and beyond in meeting their needs, they likely receive validation from meaningful actions.
How to connect with them: Utilize everyday opportunities to step into their world and assess their current need. For example, willingly putting down the phone for a few minutes to help them find their toy or having their favorite snack ready for them when they’re starving after soccer practice.
What motivates them: Helping periodically and enthusiastically with a task or responsibility they’ve been working hard on such as helping them remember their reading homework on a day they forget, or surprising them with a play date even though you originally said there was no time.
Meeting them where they’re at
I knew my forgetful, perfectionist seven-year-old also had a sensitive side. She visibly melts when words of affirmation are spoken to her. I got down to eye level and told her I knew leaving the markers out on the table was an accident, and that I was quite confident she could help me clean up, and that she’d remember to put them away next time.
Whether or not she did I can’t recall, but I do know that connecting and meeting her where she was at, gave her the best possible chance at success.
Read more from Angela on her site Parents with Confidence