Kids and Family: Valentine's Day Beyond the Candy

February 2014

There are a few motives for school-based Valentine's Day when you are a kid. The easy and obvious one: get candy. If you have 28 kids in your class, you may end up with a third of the loot you landed on Halloween. Score. Number two is that some kids really take pride in picking out or making just the right Valentine cards for their peers (they may be laying the foundation of his/her future Pinterest careers). The third motive on Valentine's Day is to let your favorite friends in the class, and maybe even your crush, know how you feel. This is where it gets tricky.

As an adult, hindsight tells me that certain kids in the class tend to get all the best Valentines. As a kid, I enjoyed the chocolate treats, but what I loved most was picking through my cards. I'd open each one to see if there was a handwritten note besides the cartoon character and pre-printed message. I'd get a few from my best friends and occasionally a surprise message from someone unexpected. Each personalized sentiment provided a little uptick in self-esteem.

Reflecting back, I wasn't the one who needed it. I had a close-knit group of friends and a loving support system at home. I know there were kids in my class that lacked both, but I didn't grasp that situation as an elementary school student. It makes me wonder if I had taken a few extra minutes before sealing my Valentine envelopes to write even the simplest things to those kids, how would it have changed their Valentine's Day experience? I'm not behind the "every kid deserves a trophy" mentality, but this day offers an easy opportunity to show people some extra love. 

Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, a counseling psychologist at the Child and Family Therapy Center at Lowry, says the benefits of helping your child realize that Valentine's Day benefits the giver as much as the receiver are strong. "Children exchanging Valentine's Day cards is a tradition that can serve several purposes. One of the lessons that can come out of exchanging Valentine's Day cards is that a child can reach out to another child that maybe otherwise they would not speak to or play with," Ziegler says. "They can experience empathy by extending an act of kindness that may be in a new form for them.  This is a great way for parents of young children to begin the process of empathy and social skills building."

Here's where parents can help: When you and your child are putting together Valentines for his/her party, spend a few minutes to suggest or help them write small notes. In a bully-invested world, this may be a chance for them to open up about their classroom dynamic and how their simple acts of kindness can have a major impact. Valentine's Day is not that serious of a holiday for most kids, but it could be for those that need a little extra thought and care on February 14.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow editorial assistant Lindsey R. McKissick on Twitter at @LindseyRMcK.