Last night, I was talking with a friend who has four kids ranging from seven to 18 months. As I tend to do whenever the opportunity presents itself lately, I picked her brain a little about discipline. I’ve been struggling to find “consequences” for Sam that are actually significant to him, but that don’t tear him down and, ultimately, teach him and grow him. When I shared this with my friend, her response prompted a sort-of parenting “lightbulb moment” for me…
In our discussion, she recounted a period she went through with her daughter (who is Sam’s age) recently where they just weren’t seeing eye to eye at all. Then, one day, out of the blue, her little girl asked her: “Mommy, what can I do for you?!?” It was really just a simple question, but it meant SO much to my friend. She said she actually teared up a little as she responded to the question and thanked her daughter profusely for thinking of her in that way. And from then, almost miraculously, their relationship began to change… When my friend told her daughter how much that meant to her and praised her for her kindness, she immediately responded to it by wanting to be kinder. Since she’d never been one to be affected by time-outs or the loss of privileges, my friend was thrilled to discover that the more she affirmed her daughter’s good behaviors, the better she behaved. From this experience, she was reminded of the book The Five Love Languages; and, by revisiting it with regards to each of her children, she’s made lots of positive changes in the way she parents.
Just in case you weren’t part of the evangelical church culture of the late 1990s/early 2000s that made this book super famous – “love languages” refer to five basic ways in which people give and receive love. According to author and pastor Gary Chapman, the five love languages are: quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch. The premise, then, of the book is that we tend to naturally give love in the way we prefer to receive it, BUT, by understanding someone else’s love language and showing them love in that way, we are actually able to strengthen that relationship and love others better.
So what does this have to do with parenting and discipline?
Well, my friend clearly has the love language of “acts of service.” As a busy homeschooling mom, she was serving her family (and, thus, loving them in the most natural way possible for her) by teaching them, fixing meals, doing laundry, cleaning up messes, etc. etc. AND, in return, she was expecting her kids to love her in the same way – by doing what she asked. BUT, as it turns out, even at only five years old, her daughter already has a “love language” of her own – “words of affirmation.” It wasn’t until they were able to discover each other’s love languages that they were able to connect. Likewise, my friend reported, knowing her daughter’s love language also helped her to determine what form of discipline is most effective for her… Now, when her daughter behaves in a way that warrants a consequence of some sort, my friend knows that telling her she is hurt by her behavior has a much greater impact than sending her to her room or giving the silent treatment to show her she is upset. Are you with me?
As we talked, so much began to click for me about my relationship with Sam right now. In particular, I thought about an instance last week when I asked our babysitter to stay with Nora for an extra 15 minutes so Sam and I could take a walk around the block together and “discuss” a bad choice he had made at school that day. I thought I was being a great mom… We were talking and connecting; I was focusing on his heart and not just his behavior. I was doing everything “right.” We walked hand-in-hand and Sam dutifully responded to my questions about why he had done what he did, offered an apology, and said he wouldn’t do it again. When we got home, I gave him a hug and told him it was done. Over. I thought I’d “handled” the issue.
Then… Can you guess where this is going? Three days later, he did the same thing again!! I was so surprised and frustrated!! And, to top it off, this time, he was anxiously waiting for me to get home so we could “take our walk and talk.”
I was loving (and disciplining) Sam the way that I experience love – through words of affirmation; but, as I realized last night, it was all wrong for him… Sam’s love language is apparently “quality time” – so this unexpected and uninterrupted time with mom was a welcome treat for him, NOT a punishment.
Please be gentle with me in your judgement of my parenting techniques here… I’m still just figuring this all out and processing for myself… But I think I’m on to something:
I’ve been busy building Sam up with my words; when, really, all he wants is my time. Though there’s no real harm in continuing to speak affirmation over his little heart and life, he would experience my love so much more intimately by playing a game together or going on a special “date” just the two of us. This also explains why our reading and cuddling time at night is so precious to him. AND, in regards to my current struggle over discipline, it explains why taking away his reading/cuddling time is FAR more meaningful to him than hearing me say that his behavior is “disappointing” or even than an extended time out or the loss of a favorite toy.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, but I wanted to process, and I thought some of you might take something away from my lessons too. I’ve known about The Five Love Languages for more than a decade and even frequently consider them in my relationships with Jeff, my family, and some of my friends; BUT, until last night, I’d never thought about them with my kids. I certainly don’t think this solves all of my problems or answers all of my questions when it comes to discipline, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Now, to figure out Nora’s love language… currently, I’m thinking “strawberries” and “clean diapers.” 😉
I’d love to hear some of your (gentle) thoughts and opinions. Do you apply the five love languages in your parenting? What is your love language? Your kids?
P.S. Gary Chapman is not related to me, and this post is not sponsored in any way shape or form. He does have a book out specifically about kids, but there’s also a lot of information on his website for free!
P.S.S. This reminded me of a recent podcast episode of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey where she talks with Jana Magruder of Lifeway about gospel-centered parenting. I have a LONG way to go, but it definitely speaks to a lot of my heart/goals for raising my kids.
P.S.S.S. See this post for more of my “discipline” journey in parenting.