On Valentine’s Day there are many red hearts, lots of chocolate and no shortage of roses and stuffed animals! However, despite this, every year I find that for many kids and teens, Valentine’s Day is more likely to brings tears and disappointment than to elicit smiles.
In many, overpowering ways, retail businesses such as jewelry stores, flower shops and greeting card companies perpetuate the expectation that Valentine’s Day will be a wonderful and magical occasion. While most adults are able to separate the hype from reality, kids and teens may not yet have developed this skill. They approach Valentine’s Day hoping and expecting that they will ‘find love’, receive an expensive or romantic gift, find an anonymous, heartfelt valentine in their locker, or experience a ‘magical’ date.
Younger kids may not be ready for ‘love yet, but they too have Valentine’s Day expectations. In fact, in elementary school, kids sometimes rate their own popularity based on how many Valentines they receive. Of course, there are a lucky few for whom these expectations are met. However, for the vast majority of kids, Valentine’s Day is disappointing and sometimes even emotionally painful (for example, when the guy a girl ‘loves’ gives a valentine to her best friend.)
Although the reality of Valentine’s Day is sometimes less fun than anticipated, there are important ways that you can help your child manage her expectations as well cope with any unavoidable disappointment. In fact, Valentine’s Day will likely not be the only disappointment that your child experiences in her life, so this is an opportunity to teach her important skills that she can use at other times.
- Educate your child about the ways in which Valentine’s Day is an enormous money-maker for retailers. Explain (in age appropriate terms) the ways in which targeted advertising and the availability of Valentine’s products can make us believe that Valentine’s Day is much more important than we might have felt otherwise. Teach your child that in all cases, the goal of advertising is to try to sway our opinions.
- In advance of the big day, remind your child that not receiving a Valentine doesn’t mean she is less loveable than anyone else. Your worth is never determined by how others ‘rate’ you. Rather, it comes from within yourself.
- Help your child to be thoughtful about distributing Valentines, so that he doesn’t accidentally omit one or two people, resulting in hurt feelings. Inclusion is almost always a better choice than exclusion.
- Remind your child that it is not appropriate to cry, yell or tantrum if she doesn’t receive an expected Valentine. Instead, it can be beneficial to discuss hurt feelings with a parent or other adult. Every child needs help learning how to keep hurt feelings in perspective, and not overreact.
If your child expresses disappointment about his Valentine’s Day , do your best to help him understand that Valentine’s Day is only a brief moment in time. Explain that there will be many, many other opportunities in life to give and receive real love and friendship.
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 family psychologist. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.