February is packed with holidays and meaning. It’s Black History month, National Heart Health month and we honor the birth of a few past U.S. presidents with a Monday off. If you are a parent with elementary aged children, the holiday that probably gets the most attention in your home is Valentine’s Day — the holiday all about friendship and love. It is hard to escape the excitement that comes from decorating brown paper sacks with heart doilies (my favorite growing up) and anticipating them filling up with pretty valentines and candy. This is also an exciting opportunity to promote positive social and emotional development with a few basic ideas: kindness, empathy and inclusion. Here are some tips to help you on the adventure of social and emotional growth this Valentine’s Day:
- Talk about expectations. Personally and professionally I find that communicating about expectation is an essential tool. To get the most out of a conversation like this there are a couple rules: ask open-ended questions and be prepared to listen without judgment. You can say things like: “What do you think about Valentine’s Day?” “What are you most excited about?” “How would you like to show your friends and classmates you care about them?”
- Talk about inclusion. Despite growing awareness and non-exclusionary practices in most schools and classrooms around the giving and receiving of valentines, feelings like jealousy and loneliness manage to crop up. Strategize with your child about the ways he/she can participate, and communicate love and care for friends without exclusion. For example, consider setting up after school play dates for exchanging “special” valentines instead of bringing them to school.
- Look for opportunities to practice empathy — for others and for ourselves.What words can your child use to include a student to play on the monkey bars? How can she ask her friend if it’s ok to give a comforting hug when her friend is sad? What tools can your son use to manage his own hurt feelings? What things help your daughter feel better when she’s been left out? Children sometimes tell us that these things help: shoot some hoops, write in a journal, dance, run, sing, talk to another friend, get a hug from mom. Have your child make his/her own list.
- Be a family model of kindness and empathy. Growing up my church participated in a Valentine’s Day food drive for the homeless. I remember the warm, cozy feeling that came from gathering canned foods, clothing and toys to give to others with less. Without even knowing it, I learned a valuable lesson in kindness and empathy. It’s easy to do: gather the kids to do a drop off at one of the many food banks and shelters in our area; make some valentines and cookies for the neighborhood nursing home, or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Make the most of the giving time to talk about thoughts and feelings about it. How does it feel to help others? Don’t be afraid to share some of your own thoughts and to name the tools you are modeling.
Valentine’s Day can go beyond the cards and candy. Help your children learn about essential life tools to help foster compassion and kindness. I hope you and your family are able to enjoy some quality time together talking about all the different ways we are affected by love in our everyday lives. Wishing you love and friendship this month, and the rest of the year.
*Originally published in the Pasadena Macaroni Kid Newsletter
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