The five love languages… for adopted children


Last night I was listening to Happier, a podcast by author Gretchen Rubin and screenwriter Elizabeth Craft, and they mentioned that they’ll be discussing The Five Love Languages (the bestselling book by counsellor Gary Chapman) in an upcoming episode. [Edited to add: the episode is now online here.] As they listed the five ways in which a person ‘hears’ love from another person, I thought of my daughter Joanna, and the ways she ‘hears’ love.

The theory is that people tend to have one preferred ‘language’ that is particularly meaningful to them, and if you show love primarily in the way you like to receive it, it might not be hitting the mark for the recipient. You need to work out what they need to receive and no that in order to connect – to make them feel loved.

The languages are:

  • time
  • service
  • touch
  • gifts
  • affirmation/praise

As I thought about Joanna, it occurred to me that she displays a need for all of these, constantly. When you consider The Wall and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need and all those exercises we do in adoption preparation, this makes a lot of sense. None of these needs were met in the first three years of her life. She craves everything, all the time.

She can never have enough time with me. Ideally one-to-one – that’s what fills her tank. A weekend away together, just the two of us, makes her feel loved.

This is the one which comes most naturally to me. I tell my children constantly ‘Of course I love you – who cooks your meals, washes your clothes, buys your toys…?’

Joanna loves to sit close to me. Really close. Both the girls like to wedge themselves into any tiny space on the sofa, no matter how uncomfortable, in order to be close to me, and especially closer than their sister, of course. Both want to sleep in my bed with me, and whenever Pete’s away with work they ask if they can take his place.

Oh, the gifts. The girls have a major case of ‘Mummy can I have…’. If I bought them a pony at 10 o’clock, they’d want a castle and a unicorn by half past. It is a bottomless pit of want.

‘Mummy, do you like my picture?’ ‘Am I pretty?’ ‘Did I do a good job?’ (Subtext: ‘Am I better than my sister? Am I your favourite?’)

The thing I find hardest is that the need is never fully met. As soon as I think I’ve shown her, definitively, that she is loved unconditionally, with the biggest gestures of love I can provide, she makes it clear that she wants more from me. More time. More presents. More praise. It’s rare that it lasts more than five minutes before she’s asking for the next thing. The unspoken request: ‘Show me that I am the most important person in the world! More!’

Is this true for your child too?
All of this leads me to speculate that this is is likely to be similar for many children who have experienced neglect. Does this resonate with other adoptive families? If so, how do you address all these needs when it seems like everything falls into a bottomless pit? I’d love to have this conversation – please add a comment below, on Twitter, or on Facebook.




  1. nickyhead
    11 August 2016 / 1:54 pm


    I found it amazing reading your blog because you’ve basically written about my 4 year old son Thomas. The odd thing is that my husband and I adopted Tom when he was 9 months old, but his wants and needs are so much more than what our 10 year old biological son has ever needed. Maybe this is just a sibling thing? Or something to do with the age gap, but I suspect not.
    Tom won’t sit close to me, he’ll sit on me, or will sprawl all over me. He also talks – constantly! It doesn’t matter if he actually has nothing to say, he’ll find something to witter about, on long car journeys (when our other 2 children are fast asleep) Tom will talk, constantly, for the entire journey. I’ve noticed that it seems to be a constant requirement to be noticed, like “don’t forget that I’m still here”.
    He too wants EVERYTHING! It drives me loopy on a shopping trip, even a trip to the library (where you’d think there was nothing to buy) he’ll find a poster or colouring book that they’re selling, and he’ll HAVE to have it!
    I also find that Tom, although an incredibly loving boy, will play up or be very naughty if I say no to anything. He’ll scream, shout, throw things, hit, say “I hate you” or be very aggressive towards his siblings. It’s as if his heart is breaking, and he feels utterly devastated that I’ve put my foot down over something. My biological son never acts in the same way. I continuously tell Tom that I love him, that I’m proud of him, my husband and I make a big fuss when he’s done something lovely, which is frequently as he is a lovely boy.

    I do wonder if my daughter (who we adopted when she was 4 months old, and whom is Tom’s biological sister) will show similar characteristics and needs when she’s older.

    • 26 August 2016 / 6:46 pm

      It’s interesting, isn’t it, how not having their needs met in those first few months can have such an enormous and long-lasting impact? It’s hardly surprising that our friends and family find it hard to appreciate that yes, it is still an issue several years on. I struggle to get my head around it sometimes!

  2. Kerrie
    10 June 2017 / 11:40 pm

    We have a 8.5 year old and he is exactly the same. He wants more than we have to give and then berates us when we can’t give him more. We have found it tough to say the least. He came to us at 16 months and it has always been this way. He also does not stop talking even for a moment, ever! he hums, he jibbers I think to stop from going in side his head. His need is so extreme to be the centre of your thinking, so as not to forget him. I expect to fill the void that his birth mum left when she, from the get go, was not there for him. He has a giant wound that he is unable to let heal, they call it the ‘Primal wound’ and it just won’t go away, no matter how much we love him or he loves us, he is searching for his mothers love, and there by searching for himself. I have read so much and been on a lot of post adoption courses over the years and to be honest, you have just got to ride the all incompasing wave along side them. I love my son but I know he is different from his peers. We recently adopted a 2 year old little girl. She instantly has shown us just how much so. She shows no signs of being as in need as he is and is able to attach and give love and be loved. The difference, her birth mum loved her, that I know because we met her and I could see that she really did. Our little boy did not get this love from his birth mum, as she was unable to, she just couldn’t give him anything at all. He couldn’t attach can’t attach fully to anything, for fear of being let go, and because he is such a frail and frightened soul. The slightest breeze of uncertainty ripples through his core and pushes him over the cliff. I feel so sad for him, but realising that this is the case has made it possible for us to finally start connecting with him, finally!! We talk about his feelings and acknowledge them with him, and I now have a SENCO teacher who he knows and likes, to check in on him once a day at school, to talk about how his day is going with his friends and anything really he wants to talk about. I think it will really help because he has that one on one he so needs. I will stand my ground with school so that they do not take this away. It is the least they can do for him, if I mention pupil premium then they should get to it as I ask for nothing more from them. I’m not saying its plain sailing because its not, I have pulled nearly all my hair out, metaphorically speaking. You have to fight for everything, for him, with him, against him, fight bloody fight! He blows up at everything and fears everything, but now at least I do not take any of it heart.
    These are amazing kids of ours and the truth is we must grow bigger muscles to help carry them till they can carry themselves. You are marvellous ladies, do not forget it. Formidable.
    We are marvellous because we are their rockamonst the crashing ocean. l certainly wouldn’t have been one before he came kicking and screaming into my life, he has made me face myself and fight. Not so bad really, tiring, infuriating, but amazing.
    Thanks for your blog Hannah, I have just found you and I feel kindred spirits should unite.
    And big ourselves up once in a while, because I think we deserve it. And no one else is bloody going to!

  3. 25 October 2017 / 10:07 am

    You are so right Kerrie, you sound pretty amazing to me.
    I’ve been thinking about the 5 love languages and my son since I first read this blog. He’s a very loving little boy, his birth mother did show him some love. He definitely needs lots of time, and it is my pleasure to give him as much as he needs. He also needs lots of service, especially in times of stress, he constantly asks me to do things for him so I am always close by. I have to be careful with praise not to overdo it, and he finds it hard to take from other people. He is affectionate and likes touch, especially a tickle, and he mostly sleeps in my bed. All this is fine but the one I struggle with is gifts. He is constantly planning the next toy. When he’s anxious, and we are out, he gets very insistent that a new toy is the only thing that will make him feel better, which of course it won’t. I do my best to make him feel loved in other ways, and we are able to talk about his need for toys when he is calm. He wants to change but we haven’t worked out how yet. Maybe it just needs time.

    • Steve
      4 May 2018 / 12:24 am

      Maybe it is just time. I recognise this and our boy was totally full on from the start. We’ve been as consistent as we could with our love and security and then, suddenly, one day the praise was just accepted and my “I love you”s were met with “Yes, daddy. I know”. That took five years and since then, emptional maturity, confidence… they all started to grow in abundance. Sure, we still have setbacks, regressions and meltdowns but I think what I’m trying to say is that we adoptive parents are awesome and, with time, I think we can really make a difference.

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