No Valentines for 11-Year-Old

To an 11-year-old, this dramatic slight loudly declares her unpopularity.
My 11-year-old daughter came home from school in tears. The school sponsored a Valentine's Day "buy a carnation" fundraiser. The students could buy carnations for friends or those they liked. All of this took place before Valentine's Day. My daughter saved her allowance so that she could give her friends carnations, but she did not receive a single carnation and is quite upset. Her 13-year-old sister received several. How do I help my sweet sixth-grader maintain her self-esteem? She has always been a confident young lady; I see her beginning to doubt herself.
Of course she is crushed. To her, no carnations means that no one considers her their friend, let alone their girlfriend. To an 11-year-old, this dramatic slight loudly declares her unpopularity, and the possible true feelings of those kids she considers friends. She will most probably suffer several "non-carnation" disappointments in the realm of shifting friendships and social allegiances as she moves through this stage of her adolescence. Each time she will probably feel hurt and confused.

You need to empathize with her pain and let her know that you understand why she feels sad and hurt. Don't suggest that this incident shouldn't matter to her, as this will tell her that you are incapable of understanding her and what is important to her. State her pain, empathize with her and say something like, "I bet you're feeling pretty sad not to have received any carnations from your friends, right?" That should be the start of a conversation that seeks to comfort her and to put this incident into perspective. You might even weave in some similar disappointment from your childhood to make her seem less singled out.

Offer practical reasons why some of her friends didn't get her a carnation -- they didn't have enough money to buy everyone a flower, maybe some friends didn't give flowers to any friends in her circle, etc. Reassure her that she should not equate not receiving a carnation with the loss of anyone's friendship. See if this discussion reveals any concerns that this is just another example of her losing her friends, of them ignoring her, of no one liking her, etc. Find out whether this incident meant a lot more to her because it was one of many recent events signaling your daughter's increasing lack of friends.

I dislike these fund-raisers because they reinforce the chasm between the haves and the have-nots at an incredibly vulnerable stage in the emotional life of an adolescent. Adults should know better than to feed into all this insecurity and choose another way to raise some money. How about kids buying flowers or making valentines for kids and elders who are in nursing homes, shelters, or hospitals? Why not suggest that idea for next year?

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

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