Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Languages of Love and Punishment (Rerun)

My dearly loved sister in law loaned me her copy of the Five Love Languages for Children, and I am really enjoying it. I haven't finished it yet, but a few things have stood out for me. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the basic idea of the book, that there are five primary ways (languages) that we give and receive love: physical touch, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service and gifts While most of us are multilingual, there is usually one or two of those that cause us to feel loved, and we often use that to express our love to others.

So far, there are two points that got me thinking: that it is difficult to pinpoint a child's love language before the age of five and that misuse of the love language, particularly if it is used as a method of punishment, can be devastating. Ironically, the most popular methods of punishment all are correlated to the love languages.

*Physical touch--spanking, popping, hitting, smacking, slapping, whatever you want to call it. For a child who is extremely sensitive to touch and uses it to show love (hugging, kissing, always wanting to touch you) the hurt goes far beyond the physical sting.

*Quality time--time outs, "go to your room", ignoring, banishment/isolation. A child desperate for attention gets the ultimate rejection in a parent who clearly doesn't want to be with him/her.

*Words of affirmation--shaming, scolding, yelling, praise/manipulation. The damage from hurtful words can last far longer than physical blows. Likewise, using praise to manipulate kids' behavior is hollow and deceitful, and they will know it.

*Acts of service--assigning chores as punishments, refusing to help as a "natural/logical consequence" (I don't think that children should be shielded from all the results of their behavior, but I have seen parents call it a "consequence" when it was really their own form of revenge).

*Gifts--taking away the child's belongings. It surprises me how easily parents will steal from their kids or trash their child's things as punishment. I guess to them, the child has no property rights. Another misuse would be manipulating behavior with rewards. If it isn't freely given, it isn't a gift.

To me, the obvious conclusion is that punishments of pretty much any sort can be more hurtful than healing, and some will be more harmful than others by striking a blow at our children's way of giving and receiving love. Since primary love languages change over time and it is difficult to discern the love language of a young child (when most parents rely on punishment), we risk damage to our love relationship with our child when we impose punishments.

So, what is left? Gentle guidance, grace, healthy boundaries. Discipline, in the form of teaching. Modeling the behavior and attitudes we want to see. Working together to find solutions. This is far from permissiveness. It is active work. But love covers a multitude of sins, right? I believe that the fruit from speaking love and choosing not to twist a child's love language into a weapon will bring health to all of us.

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