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Talk to Me! Words of Affirmation Explained.

Our words have an incredible impact on others, especially our children. When considering the impact of our words in the context of love languages, this takes the power of our words to a different level. In the books, The 5 Love Languages and The 5 Love Languages of Children, authors Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell describe five different love languages and how to use that knowledge to build deep connection in relationships. These love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation (praise, compliments, words of encouragement)
  • Physical Touch (hugs, kisses, snuggles)
  • Quality Time (focused attention, play, spending time together)
  • Gifts (tokens of affection and unexpected gifts)
  • Acts of Service (helping with projects, taking care of needs).

For a more detailed description about the five love languages, read here.

Today we will take a closer look at the love language called Words of Affirmation and how it can impact our parenting. Being a parent is a hefty responsibility. It is sobering to think that how we talk to our children when they are young will become the voice they hear in their heads when they grow older. We want that voice to be one of encouragement and love.

All of us have a preferred love language. When someone shows us attention in that way, we feel loved. If your child has a primary love language of Words of Affirmation, they soak up compliments and loving words like a plant soaks up water. There is another side to this in that they are especially sensitive to criticism or harsh verbal feedback. Finding the balance between needed correction and positive communication can be tricky. Thankfully, there are some simple suggestions that can help your words sink down into your child’s heart.

The power of your words can last even longer when written down. Consider sending sweet notes in a lunch box or text messages to your tech savvy children. I frequently send texts to my three sons, ages 19, 22, and 24. These are random, out-of-the-blue messages that speak to something particular that I love and admire about them. Maybe it is a message to my middle son acknowledging his perseverance and grit as he studies for a medical school entrance exam. Or maybe it’s another text to my younger son admiring how his mind works when he takes apart his car radio to figure out what is wrong rather than just buying a new one. Or a recent text to my oldest son in awe of his adventurous spirit as he ventures up to Maine to stay for a month with my sister and explore the national parks. Everyone complains about how technology is pulling us apart, but it can be used as a powerful tool for connection if you are thoughtful about it.

It helps to be specific in your words rather than just sticking with the general messages of “Love you!” and “Good Job!” that we sprinkle around. The formula of an I-message can go even deeper. Rather than a simple “You’re sweet,” consider using an I-message to be more specific. Something like this: “I feel thankful and amazed when I see you run to help your little sister when she falls down.” This is more specific and meaningful and can also help encourage similar positive behavior. A good rule of thumb is to try to give away one specific positive affirmation to each member of your family every day. This helps build a cushion of positive communication that helps buffer the times that we need to correct a child or address a behavior issue.

The positive words don’t always have to be connected to a positive performance. Try to say things like, “I’m so happy that I have you as a daughter” or “I love to watch you play soccer.” Keep it separate from how the soccer game went and whether the game was won. Simply express how much you love to be there watching them do what they love.

If you have a child with a primary love language of Words of Affirmation, you need to be thoughtful with your correction and what the ratio is between positive communication and needed correction. It isn’t a one-to-one correspondence. Typically, for every negative communication, it takes five to twenty positives to balance out the scale. Don’t get me wrong, correction is a needed and necessary part of parenting. Just be thoughtful of how you keep correction and affirmation in balance. My youngest son had a difficult season when he was in the sixth grade. He went from being a playful and sweet young man to a back-talking, forgetful, and unhelpful source of frustration. His little sister was two years old at the time and consumed much of my free time with the endless tasks associated with having a toddler. Having my son’s new unpleasant personality wasn’t helping this exhausted working mom, so I confronted him one night about his attitude. His response was, “All you ever do is boss me around!” I retorted that it wasn’t true and to prove it, I said that I would pay attention to how I talked to him and count how many times I actually bossed him around. Cue insert foot in mouth. Over the next three days, I sadly noticed that for every 25 times I communicated with him, at least 20 were commands or abrupt reminders. “Pick up your socks, hang your backpack, do your homework……” I was so busy with his toddler sister that I was not patient or balanced in my communication. My words were like daggers that went straight to his heart and made him feel unloved. I talked to him a few nights later and committed that I would work on how I talked with him and asked that he would work on being more consistent in keeping up with his daily tasks. Over the course of a month, I was very strategic about working in daily specific positive communication. I still had to correct and remind, but now I was focused on balance. It was almost miraculous to see the complete turn around in behavior when I soothed his hurting heart with kind words and rebuilt our connection again. I used the power of his love language to fill his emotional bucket again and the misbehavior resolved as a result.

Understanding the power of words can make a huge impact in your family relationships. Take some time to notice the balance of positive and negative communication with your children and other family members. The simple step of working in one specific compliment or affirmation to each person in your family can start building up that cushion of positive support and connection that trickles into all aspects of the day.

If you would like to learn more about different parenting strategies, join us at Improving Lives Counseling Services for a six-week parenting series on Mondays from 6:30-8:00 pm. The classes will be online each Monday from September 14th through October 19th. For more information, click here and call 918-960-7852.

Lauren Alvarez, MA

Certified Parent Educator

Elementary School Counselor

Graduate Counseling Intern, LPC Track

Additional Resources and References:

If you are curious and want to take a digital quiz, The 5 Love Languages Quizzes can be a great start to learning what the primary love language is for couples, children, teens, and singles.

Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages of Children

Video explanation of the 5 Love Languages

Bucket Fillers, Inc. (2020). Retrieved from https://bucketfillers101.com/

Clark, M.J. Your Emotional Bank Account. Retrieved from https://rb.gy/p5xdvr

Chapman, G. and Campbell, R. (2016) The 5 Love Languages of Children. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Chapman, G. (2015). The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.