Meaning of Valentine’s Day — for kids

Valentine’s Day has sadly become another one of those uber-commercialized holidays that seems to have more to do with buying stuff than acknowledging loved ones and friends. As a parent, the best thing you can do to push back against this trend is to help your child understand what the holiday is — or was originally at least — all about.

How can you make meaning for your child out of a holiday that seems to be about romance that kids aren’t ready for? Well, for starters, you could explain that actually the origin of Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly about romance, though one could see how the holiday came to be associated with romantic relationships.

Saint Valentine was a Christian clergy who went against the explicit order of his ruler who had outlawed young marriage, and married people under the Christian faith in secret. When he was caught, he was imprisoned. The story goes that the daughter of one of his jailers was a blind girl, who Saint Valentine chose to “cure” of blindness despite the actions of her father.

[See: 6 Ways to Help Kids Combat Materialism.]

These origins speak to empathy, charity, kindness and goodness (even in the face of cruelty) as well as valuing love and marriage. These are actually wonderful lessons for children! Talk to your child about how they can celebrate this day by being kind and giving to all people, not just the ones they love the most, but even other classmates.

Besides commercialism, Valentine’s Day has also degenerated in school into a popularity contest. Who gets more cards, more candy or better candy? Kids can use these things to purposely or accidentally hurt others’ feelings. They may think, why should I be nice to or give a card to a classmate I don’t like very much?

This is a great opportunity to talk about how the world is made up of all kinds of people, and while you don’t have to like them all, you do need to be respectful and even kind to everyone.

Ask your child to stand in their classmates’ shoes and think about how it feels to get no cards, when others are getting many. This is their chance to develop empathy and to experience how good it actually feels to be truly kind and caring. Making a little card for everyone in the class brings into the conversation how important it is to be inclusive, and how much there is to be gained by spreading kindness and compassion.

[Read: How to Talk to Kids About Sexual Harassment.]

Then there is the inescapable sexualization of Valentine’s Day. Again, this is a chance to discuss the many types of like and love that exist. Yes, there is romantic love, but there is also friend love, sibling and parental love, love of ideas and creative expression, love of faith, love of fellow man. How are loves different and the same? What is an appropriate expression of love or like for one’s age and the situation? Not all hugs or kisses are created equal.

Discuss the importance of consent when it comes to any type of touching at all. Being able to talk about mutual respect as an essential part of liking and loving someone as well as self-respect will help your young one to think about how they want to approach others and want others to approach them.

Sometimes a student may do something that makes your child uncomfortable on Valentine’s Day, likely because they somehow thought this was OK and even perhaps expected. Talk to your child about how to handle boundary crossing, touching they don’t want and conversation that makes them uncomfortable. There is a way to firmly and clearly say “No” without being physical and without being cruel.

The classroom is a little microcosm of a community, so brainstorming with your child about how to be inclusive and kind while maintaining your own comfort and boundaries is a great model for moving out into the world.

[See: 10 Ways to Raise a Giving Child.]

Homemade cards with kind words or a low-key treat for everyone spreads the word, “I care about all of you.” Here’s to raising the next generation of caring, empathic and integrity-filled adults who can make this world a better place, not only on Valentine’s Day, but every day!

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