Have you heard of the Five Love Languages? There are a few books, but the basic idea is that your "love language" is the way you both express love and feel love from others. They are:
Acts of Service
Words of Affirmation
I think it's really easy to get cynical about them, especially physical touch and gifts. Physical touch isn't just about romantic intimacy. Gifts isn't just about the gimmes. More on that in a minute.
Anyway, when I was teaching at a Montessori preschool, all of us read The Five Love Languages of Children. Afterwards, I discussed it with my then fiance. We spent some time trying to figure out our own love languages. Someone said to me once that it would be easy to use these as a cop-out. "Oh, well, you like gifts but my love language is quality time so that's what you get." I can see that happening, but it hasn't worked that way for us at all. It's actually helped us, especially me, understand why we might be feeling cranky in our relationship. We both have to be pretty conscious, because when we ranked our love languages, they didn't match up at all. My primary love language is quality time. His primary love language is words of affirmation. My second is words of affirmation, and I think his second is gifts. Physical touch was third for both of us I think. So you see, we are almost completely flipped.
But, knowing is really important. Sometimes, if I start to get huffy, I reflect. Ok, it might be because we aren't having much quality time--maybe because of work, or because of kids, or just the easy trap of staring at a TV (although sometimes TV can be quality time). I know that I can work to make quality time happen. I also can stop and think "what acts of service has he been doing?" He cooks breakfast for our family almost every day. That's a daily act of love for him. I feel better when I realize that he's showing love his way. I am absolutely capable of making my own breakfast, and I'm even willing to. And I know that doing something for him, like unloading the dishwasher before he does the dinner dishes, makes his day better. It's not enough to know that we have different love languages, we have to work with each other's love languages.
Obviously not everything in a marriage boils down so simply, but it's been a very effective shorthand for us.
Now, remember when I said I would come back to gifts?
Gifts are AW's love language. Like any child, she loves receiving gifts. But it becomes more clear in her generosity towards others. She brings something for her dance teacher every single week: a drawing, a beautiful leaf, a feather. She's been busy coloring pictures to give to people for "Thanksgiving presents" even though she knows it's not a gift-giving occasion and that she won't be getting any in return. She's also working on a stack of pictures for Santa because no one else ever gives him anything. It's very important to her that people accept her gifts, because that is how she shows love. One of her good friends is also a "gifts" kid, and the two of them are constantly giving each other little tokens of affection. It's the sweetest thing. And I need to remember that a thoughtful gift goes a long way for her...and that it doesn't have to be fancy or even cost money.
It's hard to tell with kids--they need all of the love languages to some degree, usually. I haven't figured out DC's love language yet. CE is obviously still a mystery because babies are pretty much 100% about the physical touch part.
What's your love language?