Here in the United States, Valentine’s Day conjures up images of bouquets of roses, candy hearts with romantic sentiments, heart shaped boxes of chocolates, and Cupid with his famed bow and arrow. It is a day for couples in romantic relationships to celebrate their love with gifts and extravagant dates. In many countries, though, February 14 is actually a day of friendship rather than romantic love. In Ecuador, Mexico, Venezuela, Finland, and Estonia, the focus is on all types of love, rather than just romance. Many schools in the United States have started to focus on this type of celebration in their classrooms, a movement that I approve of wholeheartedly.
By focusing on friendship and platonic love on Valentine’s Day, parents and teachers have the opportunity to incorporate lessons on friendship, kindness, and personal expression into the school day or their conversations at home. Not only will this help children feel more confident about themselves now when they are too young to worry about (or be interested in) dating and romance, but by teaching them at a young age that they can celebrate Valentine’s Day even if you are not part of a couple, we can help them be happier and more confident as individuals when they are teens and into adulthood.
It’s about friendship
One of my favorite ways that parents can promote the idea of celebrating friendship on Valentine’s Day is by making an evening out of filling out the child’s classroom Valentine’s Day cards. Start off by preparing a special beverage like hot chocolate or a festive snack, and set out all of your supplies on the table. As your child fills out each of his or her Valentines for classmates, ask them to share with you one nice thing about each of the children in his or her class. Not only will you learn about your child’s classmates, but you can talk to them about making friends of all shapes, sizes, races, and backgrounds.
In the classroom, teachers can incorporate Valentine’s Day into their writing curriculum by providing a list of writing prompts and giving students time to write about the topic of friendship. Some prompts include:
- What qualities make up a good friend?
- What things can you do to show a friend you care?
- If you and your best friend had an entire day to hang out, what would you do?
- Write about one way you and your best friend are alike, and one way that you are different.
- If your best friend was a superhero, what would his/her superpower be?
- If a new student moved into school, how would you show him/her that you would like to be his/her friend?
It’s about kindness
Not only is kindness an important part of friendship, it is an important part of life and can even be linked to physical health. Without getting too deep into the science behind it, researchers have found that practicing kindness has increased levels of both serotonin and dopamine in the person who is being kind, and may even reduce pain, depression, and anxiety. The person who experiences the act of kindness experiences those hormonal changes, too, as do people who witness kindness happening around them. Promoting kindness is a win for everyone!
Creating a Friendship Paper Chain is a great way to teach elementary school children about kindness. Start by cutting brightly colored construction paper, card stock, or printer paper into rectangular strips. Write the name of each student on the strips of paper, one student per strip. Distribute the paper strips throughout the classroom so that each student receives the name of one classmate, and ask them to write a message of kindness and friendship to that student. You can then go around the room and have the student read the message out loud.
After the writing portion, you can staple each strip into a loop, making a chain out of the paper strips. You can hang this in the classroom to remind students each day about the importance of kindness and how one act of kindness can grow into a whole chain-reaction. Or, you can use paper people or hearts and staple them together in a row instead of creating a chain.
It’s about personal expression
One of the best parts of friendship that I appreciate as an adult is that true friends let you be yourself and love you because of your individual quirks and unique personal traits. This is a great lesson for children to learn for a variety of reasons. Not only will befriending people who are different than they are expand their group of friends and their world view, but this mindset will help them be comfortable with who they are without worrying about changing to fit in or be like everyone else. The earlier a child can learn to love himself/herself and be happy with who they are, the happier they will be as they grow into his/her tween, teen, and adult years.
As part of my mission to build self-confidence in kids, I offer Valentine’s Day cards that truly represent your child’s personality. Whether you purchase cards from my collection or elsewhere, this is a great opportunity to sit down with your child and discuss some of his or her great qualities and things that they like. If your child loves basketball, talk about how his or her basketball skills make him/her an awesome kid. If your child is a dog lover, an avid reader, a nature lover, or a budding scientist, choosing a Valentine’s Day card suited to his or her personality is a great way to talk about all of your child’s great qualities, makes them uniquely them, and how they share those great qualities with friends.
If you are a parent or teacher celebrating Valentine’s Day with your child, I would love to hear from you. Share your photos and stories on Facebook and Instagram and tag us with #staceymdesign.
Stacey Montgomery, Founder
Stacey M Design and Stacey Montgomery Publishing