Parenting and Your Kid’s Love Language
Every good parent wrestles with how to best parent their kids. Gary Chapman offers answers through discussing a kid's biggest emotional need—that of being loved.
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Every good parent wrestles with how to best parent their kids. Gary Chapman offers answers through discussing a kid’s biggest emotional need –that of being loved.
Parenting and Your Kid’s Love Language
Dave: I’m excited; because today, we get to talk with Dr. Gary Chapman of The 5 Love
Languages about our book called Perfect Parents. [Laughter]
Ann: Is that what it’s called? —Perfect, because we’re so perfect?
Dave: That’s what it was going to be called.
Ann: No, it wasn’t! [Laughter]
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave Wilson and Ann Wilson.
You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: It was never going to be called that. It’s called No Perfect Parents: Ditch Your Expectations, Embrace Reality, and Discover the One Secret That Will Change Your Parenting.
But it is interesting to think about; that was never our title—
Ann: Right. Why did we change it?
Dave: What was our original title?
Ann: Vertical Parenting.
Dave: Yes; why did we change it?
Ann: What happened was, as the editors started reading it, they said, “You know, I’m not sure that Vertical Parenting is the way to go. It is all about vertical parenting and going to God first, but you guys talk about so many mistakes you make. Maybe it should be called No Perfect Parents.”
Dave: Again, the publisher was wiser than we were.
Dave: Yes; I think that’s a lot better title.
Ann: Because all of us, as parents, feel like we’re failing at some point. I think it’s a relief to know there are no perfect parents and we all need Jesus. We need God to direct us and guide us.
Dave: And there are no perfect kids; our kids definitely aren’t perfect.
Dave: One of the things that we did at the end of the book is talk about our top five parenting mistakes.
Ann: I thought those were really good, because you wrote that.
Dave: Yes, and there could have been our top 50 or more.
But I’m excited today, because we got a chance to sit down with Gary Chapman, author Gary Chapman, the author of The 5 Love Languages, which I don’t think there’s anybody on the planet that hasn’t read it.
Ann: Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages, helped so many of us, didn’t it? It put a lightbulb on for us.
Dave: Yes, that’s why so many have read it. It enlightened some realities, like: “That’s how people are loved and receive love.”
We got a chance to sit down with him and ask him some parenting questions. I tell you what—we were both blown away.
Ann: Wasn’t he so good?
Dave: Oh, my goodness! It was like a clinic: “How to apply the five love languages to parenting your children.” He even talked about one of his biggest mistakes. In fact, I think he said it was the worst night of his life as a parent, but also—
Ann: —the best.
Dave: —a very beautiful night as well.
Here’s a chance to listen to our conversation with Dr. Gary Chapman.
Dave: The first question I have for you, Gary: “Are there any perfect parents?” [Laughter]
Gary: If there are, I haven’t met them. [Laughter] I don’t think—
Dave: Yes, there definitely aren’t any. When our—when Zondervan got our manuscript, they retitled the book. It was going to be called Vertical Parenting, and they said, “You guys keep talking in there about how you’re not perfect parents.”
But I think there is a dilemma, because we wanted to be the best parents we could be. I think every parent does.
Talk to the parents that want to measure up and do it as well as they can, but they keep failing. What would you say to them?
Gary: Well, I think there is a place for parents to apologize to their children. I did that a few times along the journey with our kids, especially with our son. Our daughter could have raised herself—okay? But our son, it took both of us.
Yes, I think if we recognize that we’ve blown it in some way with our children, we need to be honest and say, “Look, no parent should speak to a child the way I spoke to you. That was harsh, and that was mean, and that was wrong. I’ve asked God to forgive me, and I want to ask you to forgive me.”
Gary: Yes; sometimes parents have said to me, “But if I apologize to my children, won’t they lose respect for me?”
I say, “No, they gain respect; they already know what you did was wrong.” [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; I played golf with two of my sons about 18 months ago. I thought we were actually going for a nice round of golf. After we played, we went to a little restaurant. Both of them looked me in the eye and brought up some things that I had done that had hurt them.
Ann: —when they were younger.
Dave: Yes—when they were younger—just how I had neglected some things. I honestly had no idea. It was one of those moments, Gary, that you were just talking about. I had to look at them and say, “You are so right, and I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Thank you for having the courage to bring it up. I want to do better. Help me do better.”
It was a humbling moment, but I think a powerful and a needed moment for a dad to make, just like you’re saying.
Gary: Yes, it is. The very fact that your kids would share that with you shows their own maturity as well. Because if they felt like, “If we share this, Dad’s going to get mad and say hateful things,” then they wouldn’t have done that.
Gary: But it shows their respect for you and their own maturity.
Dave: I told them right then and there, “No more; that’s it. You get one [opportunity to do this].” [Laughter]
Ann: No, you did not.
Dave: There are many more to come!
Gary: Yes; I would encourage young adults, especially [those] who have a fractured relationship with their parents, to just have an honest conversation with them—not coming across hard, and harsh, and in anger—but just saying, “You know, Mom/Dad, I just want to share a couple things with you that bothered me through the years. I just want to share them with you and get your response.”
You may be surprised. Chances are your parents will recognize what you’re saying, they will repent and apologize to you, you can forgive them, and you [can] remove that wall between the two of you.
Dave: Yes; I know one of the things Ann wrote in the book—we just did the audio recording—I read it—was how she did that when the boys were still in our house. They were sitting at the table, as teenagers, and she said, “Hey, tell us something we’re not doing well.”
That was an interesting conversation, while they were still under our roof, which was really helpful.
Ann: Well, I think, with teenagers, you can often feel like you’re bugging them all the time, or they’re rolling their eyes, or they have the big sigh. I said, “Let’s just get it on the table. I feel like I’m really bugging you guys. Let’s just have an honest conversation. Are there things that I’m doing that you feel like, ‘I wish you wouldn’t do this anymore,’ or do we have rules that you’re not liking?” It just created an openness.
Now, there were some rules that were like, “Okay, that’s not changing.” [Laughter] But you’re saying it’s good to have conversations like that.
Gary: It is. I think, if a parent will periodically say to a child who’s still in the home, “Tell me one thing that I could do that would make me a better father”—
Ann: Ooh; I like that it’s just one.
Gary: “—or a better mother.” Yes! You can do it every three months, but we can only handle one well: “So tell me one thing.” [Laughter]
Sometimes they’ll say, “You know, you’re really good at this,” or “You’re a pretty good dad,” or “I appreciate you, but there is one thing that I think would make you a better dad: if you would do this….” or “…if you would stop doing this....”
If we open up, the children and the teenagers, most of the time, are willing to share.
Ann: That’s good.
Talk to young parents in terms of like—if you sat at a table, with a bunch of parents of young children, what would you want them to know with those years that are hard?
Gary: I’d say, first of all, understand that parenting is not easy; okay? It’s going to take time and energy and, in reference to your book, you’re not going to be perfect.
Gary: You don’t have to be perfect to be a good parent. You do have to deal with your failures, as we’ve been discussing, but you don’t have to be perfect.
The other thing I would say is this: “The child’s deepest emotional need is the need for love, and it’s not enough to just sincerely love your children.” To parents I say: “The question is not, ‘Do you love your children?’ By nature, we love our children. The question is: ‘Do your children feel loved?’”
That’s where the love language content, of course, becomes very, very helpful to parents. If they know the primary love language of the child, give heavy doses of that, sprinkle in the other four—because we want that child to learn how to receive love and give love in all five languages—that’s the healthiest adult. So, I would say the importance of love.
The other [thing] I would say would be the importance of having rules that relate to the child at their stage of development. I found this helpful: “If they [the parent] will announce to the child what the consequences are if they break the rule at the time they share the rule, they’re far more likely to follow that themselves and not let their emotions control their behavior, when the child does something that breaks a rule.”
The other thing is say, “Johnny, here’s the rule: ‘You don’t throw the ball inside the house; okay? If you do, the ball goes in the car - the trunk of the car for two days, and you lose privileges. Okay? Got it?” Now, we all know what’s going to happen if he breaks that rule.
The other thing I would say is: “When you do discipline a child, wrap it in love. If you know their language, speak their language before you announce the discipline and speak it after you announce the discipline.”
Ann: What’s that look like? Give us an example.
Gary: Yes; let’s say words of affirmation is the child’s love language. They do throw the ball inside the house. You say to him: “Johnny, I want you to know how much I appreciate you and how proud I am of you, because you seldom break the rules. But you know you broke this rule, and so you know what has to happen; right? We have to put the ball in the trunk of the car, so let’s go do that together.”
Once you put it in the trunk, “Listen, I want you to know I really love you, and I’m really proud of you.” You wrap the discipline, before and after, in love. That’s how he walks away feeling, “This is fair; I’m getting what I deserve.”
But if you don’t wrap it in love and you respond in anger— “I told you not to throw the ball in the house! You know better than that! Give me that ball!” [speaking harshly], Johnny walks away feeling, “I try hard, I mess up one time, and I get yelled at.” They feel like it’s unfair.
Ann: Yes; that’s so interesting.
What would you do if a person’s love language is gifts? I’m just curious, how would you respond in each scenario with that love language?
Gary: I’d give them a little candy kiss.
Gary: I’d say, “Honey, I want to give you a gift before I tell you what’s going to have to happen here. I love you so much. Now, you know you broke the rule; right? You know what we’re going to have to do. But listen, I love you, and when you finish this kiss and we put the ball in the trunk of the car, I want to give you another kiss.” [Laughter]
Ann: Gary, I want you to be my dad! [Laughter] That’s so good. Okay, what about acts of service?
Dave: You’re going to go through every one of them?
Ann: Yes, I want to hear. This is fascinating; that’s so good. [Laughter]
Gary: Well, then I would say, “You know, I know that you’ve been asking me to fix your bicycle chain. I know it’s been three days, and I haven’t done it yet. But because I love you, I want to go do that. Then, we have to deal with a little rule that you broke; okay? So, let’s go fix your chain first.” You do that, and then you administer the discipline. And then you say, “Is there anything else I can do for you today that would be helpful for you?”
Gary: It makes the discipline much more received in a positive way by the child.
Dave: Now, of course, it sounds right now like I’m calm and I have it all together. How do you do that when you’re frazzled, you have three kids crawling around, you have poop in the corner, your husband’s not getting home/your wife’s not getting home? —I mean, you’re just at wit’s end? You don’t care about the rule anymore, you just want—you know.
I’m just saying I know parents are listening, going, “Yes, it’s not like that at my house. How do I act like Gary’s talking when it’s not easy to do?”
Gary: No question about it, there’s awful stress when you have two or three children and all the things are going on. But this is one of the values of announcing what the consequences will be beforehand, so you and the child know what you’re going to do.
But if you are hot, kind of real stressed and you’re hot, and you feel like you’re going to yell at the child, I’d say: “Postpone it; just postpone it. Walk around the house a bit and cool off before you administer the discipline.” It’s going to be far more meaningful than if you deliver the discipline in the heat of the stress and anger that you’re in right now.
Ann: I love that. Wrap it all in their love language; that’s really good.
Dave: Hey, one of the things that we wrote in the book is our top five parenting mistakes. Do you have a parenting mistake or regret that you think of?
Gary: Yes; I’ll tell you the saddest night of my life—and one of the happiest nights of my life. My son was probably 14. He and I got into an argument—I don’t remember the topic—we never remember the topic.
Gary: We got into an argument. I was yelling at him and saying hateful things, and he was yelling at me and saying hateful things. In the middle of all of that, he walked out of his room, out the front door and slammed the door.
When he did, I woke up. I said, “Oh God, I thought I was further along than this, to yell at my son and say hateful things.”
I sat down on the couch. My wife Carolyn came in and tried to console me. She said, “Gary, that was not your fault. I heard the whole thing. He has to learn how to respect you. I don’t know what we’re going to do with this kid.” But it’s hard to console a sinner, and I knew I’d sinned. She finally gave up and left the room, and I got on my knees and poured my heart out to God and just confessed, “Oh, God….”
Then I sat down on the couch. I don’t know how long, but eventually, he walked back in the house. I said, “Derek, could you come in here a moment?” He came in, sat down, and I said, “I want to apologize to you.” I said, “No father should ever speak to a son the way I spoke to you.” I said, “I know I said some hateful things to you, and that’s not the way I feel about you. I love you very much, and I am so sorry for the way I talked to you. I hope that you can forgive me.” I just poured my heart out to him.
When I finished, he said, “Dad, that was not your fault. I started that. When I was walking up the road, I asked God to forgive me, and I want to ask you to forgive me.” We cried and hugged each other.
When we got through crying, I said, “Derek, why don’t we try to learn how to handle our anger without yelling at each other? Maybe the next time you’re angry at me, you just say, ‘Dad, I’m angry. Can we talk?’ I’ll sit down and listen, and you can tell me why you’re angry. The next time I’m angry, I’ll say to you, ‘Derek, I’m angry; can we talk?’ Let’s learn how to talk our way through our anger rather than yell at each other.”
I think you see why I would say it was one of the saddest nights of my life, because I failed my son, and one of the happiest nights, because he demonstrated that he knew how to apologize. I knew that, someday, he’d probably be married, and he’d need to learn how to apologize. [Laughter]
Yes, we always think of the parents teaching and training the kids, but the kids also, God uses them to help us grow.
Dave: Yes; and I tell you—I didn’t think I’d tear up today—Gary, way to go! You got me tearing up here. [Laughter] It’s such a powerful story—not only with your son—but just your humility too, as you started the interview, say we have to apologize sometimes and admit we’re wrong. You even modeled for your son the same thing we have to do in our vertical relationship with God when we blow it. You just, literally, showed it.
We write in the book—I know you’ve written it in all your books—modeling as parents is more important than anything we say, right?
Gary: Absolutely, absolutely. If they see us apologizing and hear us apologizing, they will learn to apologize. If we just try to tell them, “You have to apologize” and they don’t ever hear us apologize, it’s probably not going to take with them.
Ann: That’s so good.
Hey, as we finish up, I would love it—I just feel like—I feel like you’re such a hero to so many of us—and I would love it if you would pray for our listeners as they’re going through parenting. I know some are feeling so lost; some are frustrated; some are feeling hopeless, like they’re doing it wrong. I would love it if you would just pray for us.
Gary: Yes, I’d love to.
Father, You know what we’re talking about. You know the parents who are listening, and You know where they are in their journey. All of us, who are older, look back. We remember our journey: the ups and the downs, the hard times and the fun times.
I pray especially for those who are deeply burdened because they’re thinking to themselves, “We’re failing. Our kids aren’t going to turn out well, and it’s going to be our fault.” Father, help them understand that they don’t have to be perfect to be good parents. Give them the courage to acknowledge failures to their children and apologize. We know that children typically will forgive us if we just apologize. Teach us to model apology to our children and love.
Father, as parents hear this, and then as parents read this book, I pray that You would use it in a positive way to help them take steps in the right direction. Father, You know their hearts, and You know that they want to be good parents. I pray that hearing what we’ve talked about today, and reading the book that we’ve been talking about, that You would use this book, Father, to touch the lives and move them in a positive direction.
Thank You for the privilege of being parents; help us. In the name of Christ, amen.
Ann: We’ve been listening to our conversation with Dr. Gary Chapman. I love that he closed in prayer. His voice just has this calming effect on me. [Laughter] It’s like I needed him in my home as we were raising our kids! Did you feel like that?
Dave: I felt like, even though we’re grandparents, it’s like he’s so wise [and] the things he shared were so wise.
I have to tell you: I was surprised when I threw the question to him about parenting mistakes. There was part of me that thought, “He may have one little one; we have a multitude, but he’s the master.” Man, when he shared that moment, I was tearing up.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: It was so powerful—not just the mistake—I mean, he took us into that conversation, where they’re yelling at each other. You can feel that, as a parent; because I don’t think there’s a parent listening that hasn’t had that moment—
Dave: —every parent—am I right?
Dave: There are no perfect parents, and there are no perfect kids. We blow it, and we miss it. The thing that Gary modeled—often those conversations or those moments don’t get reconciled—we don’t go back, as a parent, and apologize. We have to; it’s powerful. Often, we never do.
Ann: I’m surprised, even with adult kids, how we’re still apologizing. Aren’t you? Our kids are telling us, “Oh, this really hurt me when I was little.” I think some people could think, “Oh, well that was years ago.” But no, it still hurts them. So, for us to continue to never stop apologizing—and for our kids to always see we need Jesus and we are broken, but He can restore us.
Dave: Yes; I think it’s never too late.
Dave: It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how old your kids are; an apology either way is powerful.
Ann: Even if they don’t come to you, as you’re praying and you’re spending time with God, if you feel like: “Man, I really did mess up,” or “I said some things that were probably really hurtful,” for us, as parents, to take that initiative and say to our kids: “Hey, I’ve been thinking, I’ve been praying, and I’m realizing I’ve probably really hurt you. I just want you to know I’m really sorry.” I think that can go a long way.
Dave: Oh, I know it can, because we’ve done it. [Laughter]
Dave: We will continue to have to do it with our adult kids, and I’m sure we’ll have to do it with our grandkids. But it models the love and the heart, I think, of God: being broken, and soft, and gentle, and asking for forgiveness.
Shelby: One of the parenting tools that we need to keep in our tool belt is an understanding that our children will receive love differently. We need to be giving and demonstrating love to them according to their love language.
But no matter what their love language is, it’s so important that we are moms and dads, who are humble enough to acknowledge when we’ve messed up and to seek forgiveness from our children. That’s so important and powerful.
I’m Shelby Abbott. Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking today to Dr. Gary Chapman, who has written extensively on the subject of love languages, marriage, and parenting. He’s written a book about the language of apology, which they’ve touched on today. [The Five Languages of Apology: How to Experience Healing in All Your Relationships]
Of course, Dave and Ann have a book called No Perfect Parents. The subtitle is: Ditch Expectations, Embrace Reality, and Discover the One Secret That Will Change Your Parenting.
We have copies of Dave and Ann’s book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’ve not read their latest book, you’ll want to pick up a copy. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of No Perfect Parents or give us a call. Our number is 800-358-6329. That’s 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Earlier this week we had Kelly Kapic here on FamilyLife Today. He’s written a book called You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News.
This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Coming up tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are in the studio with David and Meg Robbins, our very own David and Meg. They’re going to be talking with us about how God has a bigger purpose for your marriage than just your happiness. That’s tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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