Storybooks and television tell our children that love is a mushy, wonderful thing that’s all butterflies and romance and rainbows. But as adults, we know that loving others—whether a spouse, a family member, a friend or simply your neighbor—is more often an exercise in self-sacrifice and putting others first. Butterflies are optional.

So how do we teach kids to love others? First, look at the 5 Love Languages of Children to figure out how your child perceives love.  That’s an important first step to help you and your children understand that different people express love in different ways.  Next, move on to How to Raise Loving Kids.

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Dr. Gary Chapman says knowing your child’s love language can make all of the difference in your relationship.  Here, he shares descriptions of the five love languages.

  1. Love Language #1: Physical Touch
  2. Love Language #2: Words of Affirmation
  3. Love Language #3: Quality Time
  4. Love Language #4: Gifts
  5. Love Language #5: Acts of Service

Love Language #1: Physical Touch

Hugs and kisses are the most common way of speaking this love language, but there are other ways, too. A dad tosses his year-old son in the air. He spins his seven-year-old daughter round and round, and she laughs wildly. A mom reads a story with her three-year-old on her lap.

For children who understand this love language, physical touch will communicate love more deeply than will the words, “I love you,” or giving a present, fixing a bicycle, or spending time with them. Of course, they receive love in all the languages, but for them the one with the clearest and loudest voice is physical touch. Without hugs, kisses, pats on the back, and other physical expressions of love, their love tanks will remain less than full.

Love Language #2: Words of Affirmation

In communicating love, words are powerful. Words of affection and endearment, words of praise and encouragement, words that give positive guidance all say, “I care about you.” Such words are like a gentle, warm rain falling on the soul; they nurture the child’s inner sense of worth and security. Even though such words are quickly said, they are not soon forgotten. A child reaps the benefits of affirming words for a lifetime.

Love Language #3: Quality Time

Quality time is focused attention. It means giving a child your undivided attention. Quality time is a parent’s gift presence to a child. It conveys this message: “You are important. I like being with you.” It makes the child feel that he is the most important person in the world to the parent. He feels truly loved because he has his parent all to himself. When you spend quality time with children, you need to go to their physical/emotional level of development. The most important factor in quality time is not the event itself but that you are doing something together, being together.

If quality time is your child’s primary love language, you can be sure of this: Without a sufficient supply of quality time and focused attention, your child will experience a gnawing uneasiness that his parents do not really love him.

Love Language #4: Gifts

The giving and receiving of gifts can be a powerful expression of love, at the time they are given and often extending into later years. The most meaningful gifts become symbols of love, and those that truly convey love are part of a love language.

Most children respond positively to gifts, but for some, receiving gifts is their primary love language. You might be inclined to think that this is so for all children, judging from the way they beg for things. It is true that all children—and adults—want to have more and more. But those whose language of love is receiving gifts will respond differently when they get their gift. Remember, for them this is love’s loudest voice. They see the gift as an extension of you and your love.

Love Language #5: Acts of Service

Some people speak acts of service as their primary love language. If service is your child’s primary love language, your acts of service will communicate most deeply that you love Johnny or Julie. When that child asks you to fix a bicycle or mend a doll’s dress, he or she does not merely want to get a task done; your child is crying for emotional love.

If your child’s primary love language is acts of service, this does not mean that you must jump at every request. It does mean that you should be extremely sensitive to those requests and recognize that your response will either help fill the child’s love tank or else puncture the tank. Each request calls for a thoughtful, loving response.

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Good Character for Kids: How to Raise Loving Kids

To kids, love is often just a word or a feeling.  But we grown-ups know (or we should know) that love is more about action and attitude than feelings.

1. Others first.  Teach your children to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of others. Simply stopping to ask what a friend or family member may need, and being willing to put those needs first, shows love. Pausing to consider how others may feel about a particular situation and what you can do to help is also loving. True love—the kind that Christ modeled for the world—is all about denying self for others.

6 Ways to Teach Unselfishness

2. Hand and hand.  Love and kindness go hand-in-hand.  It’s difficult to convey love to others when you are treating them unkindly.  So brush up on How to Teach Gentleness to Your Children and point out the love/kindness connection whenever you can.

3. Encourage love.  The home is a great place to learn about love.  You can model love by treating your husband lovingly.  You can foster love between sisters and brothers with our Top Ten Reasons Why I Love printables.

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