If love is a language, then teach your family members to become conversant. We experience love through words of affirmation, spending quality time together, receiving gifts, performing acts of service and physical touch, according to Gary D. Chapman, author of “The Five Love Languages.” Here are ten ways to increase family affection at home:

Love life and it will love your family back. Your attitude towards life will either inspire or haunt your family. You may think you’re being realistic, but if you constantly chorus that life isn’t fair, that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that it could have been worse, your kids are going to grow up expecting life to let them down. Sure, life can be a bumpy ride sometimes, but never forget that unconditional love and positive encouragement make the challenges more bearable.

Spend quality time with each person in the family. Love should never be a competition. My daughter loves to spend daddy-daughter time with my husband, and I’m glad she does. They have the things they like to do together, like watching slapstick comedy shows on TV or going out to their favorite breakfast place. And my daughter and I have our favorite things to do like watching chick flicks or going shopping. Be sure to carve out quality time with every family member, including your spouse.

Teach kids to be caring to others. Show kids how to make thoughtful gestures that make the most of their talents. Or get them out of the house and involved in assisting a good cause. If family members have trouble expressing care to each other, maybe they will have an easier time expressing affection and concern outside the family.

Set a loving example. If you want your kids to have the self-esteem to live the best life possible, you have to teach them to love themselves first and foremost. Unfortunately, if the parents can’t model this, the children are not likely to learn it. So, take good care of you first, and then take good care of your brood. Love and care for yourself so you can best love and care for others.

Encourage family members to express their needs and wants. You can’t give people what they need and want if they don’t know what that is. Offer extra support to a family member who can’t identify those things. Don’t let her always sacrifice her opinion for whatever the rest of the group wants. Every member of the family needs to know how to dig deep and express their own point of view. If you ask for wants and needs, you’ll encourage every family member to figure theirs out.

Personalize “I love you” for each family member. Childhood nicknames can create affectionate moments in later years. If calling your child by a nickname will offend, then express the sentiment in whatever way the recipient will hear you best. Forget how you want to say it, and opt for what will garner the most positive response from your child.

Don’t forget, “We all love you.” Get in the habit of speaking for the whole family. A family is a “we,” and love goes at the center of this complex constellation. This does not mean your toddler, teen or college grad will always be eager to express emotion. So go ahead and be the voice of the whole family, as needed. Then, once you have spoken for all, let even a begrudging nod of agreement be enough.

Hug family members at every age. It has been scientifically proven that hugging lowers blood pressure and reduces stress, so what more of an excuse do you need? If your older kids try to brush you off, tell them you have to hug them – it’s for their good health. And, of course, encourage kids to receive hugs when they are struggling emotionally, so they don’t become habitual sufferers.

Squeeze in small gestures of love. Find little ways to express physical touch, especially for those family members who try to shirk it. Squeeze a shoulder, pat a knee, rumple some hair, kiss your hand and then pat their cheek. And mix it up a little. It’s when affection becomes rote that teens roll their eyes at you and groan. So, get creative and say it like you mean it. Catch them when they least expect it, and they won’t have time to duck away.

Appreciate the attempt. Remember that there is no such thing as perfect families. Also remind yourself that sometimes love will flow more readily and easily between family members than other times. And when a family member tries to do something genuinely kind or nice, try to appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture. Don’t let them be teased or called names for expressing affection. Love is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Sentiments to post around your home:

  • Where there is family, there is love.
  • Hug it out.
  • Sweet dreams. Sleep tight. We love you. Good night.
  • Love lives here.
  • Always tuck me in and kiss me goodnight.
  • I love you to the moon and back.

Christina Katz

Recent Posts