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How to Explain the True Meaning of Valentine’s Day to Kids

Tips from local experts on modeling self-love and compassion to your kids.

The sweet aroma of fresh baked cookies and roses is all around––yes, it’s true, love is in the air. Which is why many kids are simply head over heels about Valentine’s Day. And why shouldn’t they be? Every year, the holiday is embodied by an abundance of goodies at your local grocery stores, from heart-shaped candies to boxes upon boxes of chocolate, ginormous stuffed animals and glitter-filled Valentine’s cards––it’s like a second Christmas.

As we know, the holiday symbolizes much more than mouthwatering confections and “Roses are red, Violets are blue” poems. It’s a day to express love and gratitude towards our loved ones. But despite that giddy sense of joy that comes with the spirit of the holiday, many kids might also experience feelings of fear and rejection on this day.

“Valentine’s Day has an opportunity to be a neat and interactive holiday experience, but it also can be laden with emotionally tricky situations because it typically involves a reciprocal give and take in social relationships and can foster some self-doubt,” says Dr. Stevie Puckett-Perez, pediatric psychologist at Children’s Health and UT Southwestern.

To combat these feelings of self-doubt that might arise in your children, it’s important to reiterate the true meaning of the holiday to your kids: being kind to one another and celebrating each individual for who they are, despite our differences. This will not only ensure they have a happy holiday but also continue to inspire in their own self confidence and self-love, which is vital to kids’ personal growth.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day

Set aside fun activities and treats for the whole family on Valentine’s Day, which might help ease your child’s insecurities. “Having something silly or special to celebrate when they come home can help to inoculate them against the potential stressors they may encounter related to the holiday at school or with peers,” shares Puckett-Perez.

Following the festive celebrations, sit down with your kids and discuss the holiday. Touch on the meaning behind giving one another gifts and the significance of telling those they care about that they are loved and valued.

“Talk about Valentine’s Day as a day of sharing love for all people, not just romantic interests,” says Dee Ray, director of the Center for Play Therapy and professor in the counseling and higher education department at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Have each family member give each other a valentine treat with messages of love.”

Remind your littles that not all gifts come in the form of wrapped gifts, letting them know that love isn’t represented in the grandiose nature of a gift but rather the message behind it. “[Give] messages of love through acts of kindness or words of encouragement, rather than gifts or candy (but gifts and candy are OK, too),” shares Ray.

And on top of showering your kids with hugs, kisses and positive affirmations, take advantage of the holiday to start your own traditions at home. “Create rituals and lasting memories of what it means to be well-loved, appreciated and embraced for who they are as individuals and as a family unit,” says Stephanie Golden, LPC, family therapist with the Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth.

This could be in the form of sharing thoughts that you love about one another at the dinner table, teaching your kids a new recipe for cookies, or even as simple as reading a bedtime story on the topic of love.

“Pick whatever feels authentic for your family to celebrate—a special meal with heart-shaped foods, handmade valentines, a heart-warming movie or game, a candy-swap, ‘secret valentine’ party among family members” says Puckett-Perez.

RELATED: 14 ways to make Valentine’s Day more fun

Tackling Rejections

Experiencing feelings of rejection isn’t pleasant for any of us, but they are especially difficult for children who are encountering these feelings for the first time. To us, it might seem trivial, but for kids, the fear of being “left out” and not receiving a Valentine’s card from their friend, or receiving few to no valentines from classmates, might leave them feeling as if they quite don’t measure up––and perhaps, embarrassed.

“The best way to help kids understand and accept rejection is to first accept their feelings and normalize those feelings,” says Ray. “Acknowledging a child’s feelings should happen before trying to make them feel better with advice or praise. [This] helps a child know that interactions with others sometimes hurts and that’s true for all people––so they’re just like everyone else.”

You can also take this time to teach your children that everyone expresses love in different ways––and that’s OK. “You’re choosing to show your love by giving your friend a valentine, but she might show love by hugs or being friendly,” explains Puckett-Perez.

Above all, it’s important to listen intently, take your children’s woes seriously and provide emotional support. In order to ease the discomfort and negative feelings of rejection, Golden suggests engaging your kids in a fun activity. “[Provide a] positive distraction and a message to not take the experience so seriously.”

Make Self-Love a Habit

You shower your kids with love everyday, but as you probably have already experienced as a parent many times over, actions speak louder than words, which often applies to self-love.

“It’s not enough for a parent to love and accept the child for the child to truly learn self-love,” explains Ray. “[Kids] must also see that the parents love and accept themselves. Watching a parent make mistakes and be imperfect, yet still be loving and accepting of self, is a powerful way to encourage children to love themselves.”

Perez agrees that letting your kids see you fail and get back up is imperative to teaching your kids resilience. “Let them see you love yourself through difficult moments. Find the positives in yourself and in the situation; name your feelings aloud; and identify positive actions you can take to feel better,” says Perez.

Aside from your kiddos seeing you fail and get back up again, it’s important that they also see you taking care of and loving yourself. “This might include engaging in healthy habits and lifestyles, such as regular exercise, eating good foods, getting plenty of rest, laughing at their own mistakes, avoiding negative self-talk and practicing generosity and benevolence,” shares Golden.

Making self-love and self-care a priority will enable your littles to practice these healthy habits on their own and care for others as well, far beyond Valentine’s Day.

Mom Advice on Teaching Self-Love

Samanda Miller is a mother to two daughters with a background as a special education teacher and school counselor. She shares her tips on getting across the message of self-love to your children.

Love Unconditionally
Our children need to know that they are loved unconditionally. Parents’ unconditional love is what helps children learn to feel safe and secure. Our children need to know that a parent’s love doesn’t change, regardless of behavior, accomplishments, athletic prowess or school grades.

Cheer Your Kids On
Praise helps build a child’s confidence and feelings of self-worth. However, it’s important to praise for a variety of things, not just accomplishments. Praising your child’s effort, problem-solving skills, or willingness to try a new activity helps children learn that their value isn’t just based on accomplishments.

Teach Positive Self-Talk
Parents are not always available to coach children through challenging situations. This is why it’s important to teach our children positive self-talk, so that they can become their own cheerleaders. Each of us has an internal monologue that guides us, and teaching

This article was originally published in February 2019.

Illustration: iStock