Somehow, when my daughter began preschool, I got into the habit of treating her to little surprises when I picked her up from school. Sometimes it was a small treat, like a cookie or a piece of candy; other times it was a trip for ice cream or a surprise visit from her aunt or grandparents. When I began this, it wasn’t an everyday occurrence, and to me the surprises felt special and well received.

Until this school year, when my daughter expected a surprise every day.

I stubbornly resisted at first. I wasn’t going to raise a spoiled or entitled child, I’d say to myself; surprises aren’t special if they’re expected, even demanded.

As you can imagine, my conviction didn’t go over well with a four year old. At the end of each school day she’s happily run down the steps towards me, asking if I had a surprise for her. On the days I didn’t, she quickly turned into a puddle of tears, her screams making me want to hide from the stares of her classmates’ parents. I was embarrassed. What did this look like to them? Asking for surprises every day? Throwing a fit when she didn’t get one? Had I already passed the point of no return? Was my daughter entitled and spoiled? We struggled for weeks. Things weren’t getting better.

It bothered me so much that I turned to the Internet for answers, as so many of us do. It was then that I found an article about the love language of children and it became crystal clear: my daughter’s love language – the way in which she felt loved and cared for – was through gifts.

It’s no wonder I didn’t understand or recognize this at first. Of the five love languages – physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service and gifts – gifts would have come dead last on my list (and, in fact, did when I took this assessment). To me, gifts don’t convey love. To my daughter, it meant I thought about her while we were apart during those school hours. It meant I cared enough to pick out something I knew she’d love. To her, those gifts were love, and on the days that I stubbornly told her I didn’t have a gift for her, all she heard was that I didn’t care enough that day. That in that moment I didn’t love her enough to think of her. Imagining how it must have made her feel broke my heart.

Now I surprise her with a gift daily. I don’t care what the other parents think who overhear our verbal exchange at pickup about the “thing” I have waiting for her. It’s not even about the gift itself; most of my surprises for her are trinkets from the dollar store, or something I grabbed at the grocery store when I did my shopping that day, or a craft we can do together back home. To my daughter, it’s not about acquiring things or greed; it’s about love, and feeling connected to me, even when we’re apart.

We’ve been much happier now that I’ve learned this about her. I may never fully understand how gifts make her feel so emotionally supported (but empty my dishwasher for me or run to the store to pick up the ingredient I forgot and my love language needs – acts of service – are met) but in the end it’s not about me. It’s about the deep connection I’m constantly striving for with my daughter; about the intense love I feel for her that I so desperately want her to understand. I’d do anything for my daughter, including learn a new language.