Affairs of the Heart
Valentine's Day is a wonderful opportunity to show appreciation for people we love. But many of us also approach this holiday as though we are facing the fate of St. Valentine, the Christian martyr who was beheaded on February 14, giving the holiday its name.
We probably all have painful memories of at least one Valentine's Day that left us full of heartache rather than joy. And these days, when we are bombarded for weeks with commercial messages insisting that love is a heart-shaped box of candy, it's a tough holiday to escape. As parents, we can do a lot to help our children put Valentine's Day in perspective.
For many children, Valentine's Day first becomes important in kindergarten. Some teachers encourage kids to make and decorate individual boxes to hold anticipated valentines. Others have a single box in which children can deposit valentines for other people. Sometimes, the holiday is used as a way of teaching children about sending and receiving mail. Time is also spent making valentines for family members. Frequently, there is a class party and great excitement as valentines are distributed.
It's an event 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? In the younger grades, many teachers 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.
Making the most of the holiday
You can also use Valentine's Day to examine your own attitudes towards the holiday -- the way you celebrate it in your family and the effect it has on your children.
Finally, 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.