Valentine's Day is a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation for people we love. Instead, many of us complain about the cards (“What’s the point? They just get thrown away.”), obligation to bring in treats (“Who needs more sugar?”), the phoniness of it all (“The kids only want the candy”) or about whether preschool and elementary children should be exposed to the notion of “romantic” love. Even further, many people also have painful memories of at least one Valentine's Day that resulted in heartache instead of joy. We have seen and heard it all!
That said, as parents, we can do a lot to help our children put Valentine's Day in perspective. Most kids are head over heels about Valentine’s Day from the start, given the abundance of goodies at the local grocery stores––it’s like a second Christmas. The holiday symbolizes much more than mouthwatering confections and “Roses are red, Violets are blue” poems. It’s a day to express love and gratitude towards loved ones.
Valentine’s Day has an opportunity to be a fun and interactive holiday experience, but it also can be laden with emotionally tricky situations involving the reciprocal give and take in social relationships and can foster some self-doubt. To combat these feelings of self-doubt that might arise in a child, it’s important to reiterate the true meaning of the holiday: being kind to one another and celebrating each individual for who they are, despite our differences. This will not only ensure each child has a happy holiday but also continues to inspire self-confidence and self-love, which is vital to kids’ personal growth.
The Valentine’s Day celebration’s that take place in school is fraught with possibilities for hurt feelings because it becomes a competitive measure of popularity. What if one child gets more valentines than anyone else? What about the kids who get only a few? What if a child doesn't get any? At Otter Learning, we cope with this dilemma by insisting that kids who give valentines must give them to everyone in the class.
The spirit of equal-opportunity valentines is the best solution for a classroom, but giving valentines to people for whom you don't have special feelings -- or whom you may not even like -- does send a confusing message to children about meaningful gift-giving. You can use this broad gift-giving as a way to help teach children tolerance and an appreciation of differences among their classmates.
A few other thoughts and advice for this day of love
If your child wants to do something special for a best friend that extends beyond a valentine in class, make a special time for them to get together outside of school.
Children and parents often exchange cards to emphasize their strong bonds of love. You may want to initiate this to help your child understand family love as part of the holiday.
Remember that as parents, we transmit values to our children through our behavior. If we celebrate Valentine's Day by exchanging expensive gifts, it is likely that our children will want to do the same.
It's never too early to help children express love and friendship in ways that transcend materialism. Because young children are concrete thinkers, it's hard for them to understand a concept that can't be represented by objects. But by watching you give gifts of kindness, time, compassion, respect, and thoughtfulness to the people you love --- not just on holidays but throughout the year -- they will learn that "I love you" means so much more than three words inscribed on a candy heart.
Following the festive celebrations, sit down with your kids and discuss the holiday. Touch on the meaning behind giving one another gifts and the significance of telling those they care about that they are loved and valued.
Most importantly – Don’t forget to spread the love!