1Valentine’s Day on 14 February has become one of the most celebrated ‘days’ besides Christmas. This highly commercialised day, that receives so much media hype, provides the perfect opportunity for parents to explore positive parenting strategies, the theme of love and what ‘I love you’ means within the family context, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day.

Commercial confusion

Children can be forgiven for thinking that the only way to express real love is by giving flowers, chocolates, sweets or teddy bears. This is what is sold to them in the name of love. I don’t know about you, but my husband and I stopped celebrating Valentine’s Day many years ago because the cost of going out to dinner and buying red roses is just insane. Instead, for at least the past 10 years, we have celebrated with our children in the family context, and it has been just beautiful. See some of our gentle family traditions further down this blog (love fans and Valentine’s place mats).

Feelings of heartache or joy

BROKEN HEARTFor some children who take Valentine’s Day really literally, especially adolescents and young teens, this can be a time of measuring oneself by how many cards, flowers or SMS’s you receive – a competition in popularity, if you will.  For a child who gets many, they are likely to feel good about themselves on 14 February, but if they get none, or far fewer than their peers do, it can be devastating.  Don’t you remember a time when a particular Valentine’s Day left you feeling full of heartache and emptiness? This is why it is very important for families to contextualise Valentine’s Day for their children against their own value system. To prepare them for what might happen and what that really means in the context of their whole lives. Share your own war stories, do you take Valentine’s Day seriously, how do you celebrate it?

What is love?

This is a very important question every family needs to address, especially in this digital age where you don’t have to physically buy and post a Valentine’s Day card. SMS’s, tweets and Instagram message abound.  Some may be sweet. Some may be mushy and romatic. Some may be just friendly.  Others may be downright suggestive or demeaning.

Cyberbullies may take this opportunity to put down and isolate someone they don’t like or have decided to victimise with ‘You’re such a dog, who could ever love you?’ messages, for example. Others may make promises in order to get something they want such as, “I’ll love you if you send me a naked selfie.”

Children with low self-esteem or who have not had love contextualised properly for them, may fall for these lines and then pay dearly for it in angst or a compromised online reputation.  So, parents, wake up!  Valentine’s Day provides a teachable moment to get into the affairs of the heart.  To talk about the difference between love and infatuation. Between having a crush and getting into a steady relationship. Of having sex to be popular and having sex because it is an expression of love………….and of course, for the bold (and we all need to get bold sometime with our kids!), when is it okay to have sex at all?

We need to explain to our children that love is more than what you say to someone. It’s not just a word, it is a continuing and congruent set of actions that all point in the same direction.  It’s something we can feel on many different levels and express in many different ways.  This is good dinner table conversation. We can love each other as parent and child, as siblings, as friends and in a romantic way.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be about romance, but what is that today?  Kids get into relationships extremely fast due to the fact that they can connect via cellphone long before they have any face-to-face contact.  In fact they skip the romance part to a large extent. So much so that they think they know each other and love each other, and are even promising things before they test the relationship in the real world.  Children need to learn how to trust their gut feel about feelings, emotions and love, and it is best learned face-to-face.

Positive parenting about love and values

Love and values

2There are many things that need to be discussed in relation to love including (but not only):

  • Respect vs disrespect
  • Honour vs dishonour
  • Trust vs distrust
  • Unconditional love vs conditional love
  • Sex and love
  • Love and violence
  • Love and support
  • Consistency
  • Commitment
  • Love that doesn’t last (they are surrounded by divorce – it is part of their reality)

Yes, love can be really complicated but so simple at the same time.  For children, particularly children under the age of 12, who are in the concrete phase of learning, creating real bridges to celebrating and discussing love can be a useful way to engage them in conversation.  Here are a few fun ideas that have become part of our family tradition:

Valentine’s Day place mats

We cut out paper place mats from pieces of white and red paper. Fold an A4 piece of paper in half horizontally.  Draw a large heart shape and cut it out. The A4 paper with the heart-shape missing becomes the place mat and the hearts can be used to decorate the table, doors, back of chairs etc. Our children have loved this ritual for years and when they were in primary school they got really involved in this simple idea, drawing and cutting the place mats and picking white Iceberg roses and daisies for the vases on the table, lighting candles and, of course, helping to cook.

Valentine’s Day love fans

Instead of giving Valentine’s cards, we make Love Fans out of  A4 pieces of white paper at the dinner table. Fold them into a fan with four of five segments, write your name in bold on one of the sections on the top, and then pass them around the table from person to person. Every member of the family writes on a section of the other person’s fan – I love you because………  Parents of small children will need to do the writing for them.

What makes you feel loved?

Now here is a great question to ask every member of the family as a parent, and do this individually without the other siblings present.  What do I do that makes you feel loved? For pre-schoolers you could substitute the word ‘happy’ for ‘loved’.  You will find that children from the age of eight upwards are very able to answer this question and you will be surprised at how clearly they can articulate their thoughts and how different it might be for each child.  And it is different because we all interpret love differently depending on our preferred love language.

LOVE LANGUAGESI am a great fan of Gary Chapman’s celebrated work: The Five Love Languages as it has really helped me to parent my children in ways that make them feel loved. Here are the five:

  • Acts of service
  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch
  • Gifts

I’ll touch on these in more detail in another blog but, suffice to say, we are responsible for modelling and building the emotional bridge to our children.  If we can make them feel loved in the best possible way, they will feel good about themselves and be able to reciprocate love in healthy ways back to others in return.

Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘love makes the world go round’? Now go and use Valentine’s Day to help you children put love in perspective!

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