This article originally appeared in the Feb. 3, 2011, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Ask 20 kids what love is and you will probably get 20 very different answers. But ask them what Valentine's Day means and the answers are largely the same — candy hearts, boxes of chocolate, and sending cards to just about every kid in school. More than cards and candies, though, Valentine's Day can also mean new emotions and weird feelings for kids. Fortunately, there are ways to help them manage these situations.
Many teachers ask their students to send valentines to everyone in the class so that no one is left out. At home, reinforce that sending cards to all classmates is a good way to make sure that everyone has a happy Valentine's Day.
“This is a really good opportunity to start teaching children about the value of being kind to others and of putting yourself in another person’s shoes. That can be a hard thing for kids to do,” says Dr. Jessica Luitjohan, a pediatric psychologist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. “If you can help your child understand that it’s good to include all of their classmates so no one feels left behind, you’ve gone a long way toward helping them learn compassion for others.”
Children who are concerned that someone might be left out truly have the Valentine's Day spirit and a caring attitude. After praising your child for being so considerate, you can help make sure that no one will be left out of the fun by preparing cards for everyone in the class.
Some children might be afraid that sending valentines in bulk means they are saying that they want to be sweethearts with all 30 kids in the class. If kids feel uneasy about sending valentines for this reason or because they don't want to send a card to someone they don't get along with, try to find or make cards with jokes or friendly messages, like a simple "Happy Valentine's Day" rather than "Will you be mine?"
Some store-bought cards have messages that might be inappropriately romantic for young children. If your child gets a card that hints at a love interest, it's probably best to downplay your reaction. Teasing about or drawing attention to such cards will only make kids feel uneasy or embarrassed.
If your child comes home with a light valentine bag and a heavy heart, it may be a good time to talk about quality versus quantity: It's not the number of valentines received that's important but their quality. Those cards are from true buddies, and that's what counts. You can also consider starting a Valentine's Day family tradition. Presenting kids with a card, flower, or other small gift can help them feel appreciated and loved, and they'll always have something special to look forward to.
If you’re looking for a special valentine’s treat for those you love this year, consider the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation e-card. For a $10 donation, you’ll get a link to pass on to as many people as you would like, with a video e-card featuring Glennon kids telling all they know about love. For details, go to www.glennon.org.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.