Valentine’s Day, much like Halloween, is a holiday that kids love, primarily for the candy. But the nice thing about Valentine’s Day is it’s about love and kindness and these are two very important concepts for children to learn about while they are young and throughout their life. With all of the conversation about preventing negative behaviors (e.g., bullying prevention) it seems like we, as parents and teachers, get caught up in telling our children how not to behave rather than focusing on encouraging and empowering them to behave in a way that we want them to. So here are a couple of ideas to teach your kids about love and kindness (both today and throughout the year) and I’m going to throw empathy in here as well because it’s just so important for acting with kindness.
Making Cards. Valentine’s day cards are a very popular activity and one that can be a wonderful teaching opportunity when it is done with thought and care. Kids generally have to send cards to everyone in their class, work with your child to think about each child as you address the card for each classmates. Depending on the age of your child, have your child either write or say one nice quality about that classmate. For example, “I like how Naomi shares the blocks with me.” Making cards for friends and other people for other occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, or first day of school is a nice way to remind your children about the importance of thinking about other people’s feelings and working to make them feel special and happy.
Get Creative. Help your child think of novel ways to tell their friends and family that they love them. Encourage your child to draw pictures, write a story, or make up a song of a time when they were nice to a friend or when a friend was especially nice to them. By working with your child to create something you open up the opportunity for conversation and discussion about the different behaviors or experiences that make people feel happy as well as the ones that make people feel sad.
Gifts. I’m not a big proponent of gifts just for the sake of giving gifts but of course that is one way in which people do show and demonstrate kindness. A gift can be anything and does not need to be purchased at a store. Talk to your children about the many different types of gifts that exist and some of the best “presents” you have ever received to help them understand that kindness and thoughtfulness is often a wonderful “gift”. Also talk about the importance of thinking about what type of gift you may want to give to someone based on the other person’s interests rather than your own. This is something that is often hard for young kids to understand. They may think that because they love the color blue that they should get all of their friend’s blue gifts, even if they know that their friend Sophia loves the color purple. Understanding that other people may think differently than you is a very complex task for young children to understand so be sure to talk to them about this often.
Do Something Special for Someone Else. This is something that many families think about during Thanksgiving or Christmas-time, but tend to forget to do as much as the year goes on. Valentine’s day could be another great holiday to give back and give kindness to people in need. Whether that means giving a piece of chocolate to a homeless man on the street or singing a song for children in a hospital. Valentine’s day is about showing love and kindess both to people in your life who you love and care for but you can also share love and kindness with others to make them feel special.
Model Love and Kindness. As parents it is easy to get wrapped up in the day to day activities and forget to go out of your way to show kindness to your children, your spouse, or your friends. Remember that your children are learning from your behavior so make a conscious effort to discuss acts of kindness that others have done and the ways in which you acted kindly to others. Also talk explicitly about acting kind at home, explain that it was really nice that Daddy picked up the carton of milk that the family needed or that it was really kind and thoughtful of your son to clean up his toys without being asked. Talking about these events and recognizing good behavior is sometimes hard when we feel like we constantly have to remind kids about what not to do, but try to take a few minutes each day to talk about the nice things that people did for you or that you did for others, maybe over dinner or before going to bed.
These are just a few ideas to think about. I hope that everyone gets a chance to share their love and kindess today, either because it’s Valentine’s Day or just because it’s another Tuesday.
The Baby Center. The Caring Child: How to Teach Empathy.
Sesame Street. Empathy in Children by James Herzog & Katherine Ross
Kaboose. Top 10 Tips to Share with your Children.
This also includes some book suggestions as well
Reading Rockets Valentine’s Day Writing Ideas