by Caroline Bliss Larsen
Valentine’s Day is a great time to teach your children that real, healthy relationships don’t require a box of chocolates. Grocery stores and shopping malls alike are great at enticing people to load up on chocolate, candy, and gifts for that special someone (or yourself) on Valentine’s Day—as a chocoholic, I should know. But what’s better than taping chocolates to paper hearts is teaching your kids what real love looks like—starting in the family. And real love is a lot healthier than all that candy.
Healthy, loving relationships
- . . . listen and encourage. Forget your agenda for a moment to listen to your child. Instead of asking if Danny cleaned his room, ask him whom he played with at recess. Instead of asking if Jenny’s homework is done, ask her what she read in school today. When your children confide in you, this shows they trust you and value your support. Show that their cares matter to you any time of day, and they will learn to do the same for others.
- . . . express love. Even if you think your family is not the overly affectionate type, everyone needs a little reassurance that they’re loved. Instead of only saying “I love you,” try saying “I love you because . . .” or “I love it when you . . .” This adds more depth and reminds the recipient of their best qualities. But it’s also okay to sometimes say, “I love you . . . just because.”
- . . . say sorry. What’s most important here is to practice what you preach. Accept when you may have been wrong, and apologize to family members. Also learn to accept apologies—truly accept them—and hold no grudges. This is one thing that is best taught by example.
- . . . are not shallow. This applies to any relationship but is especially significant for romantic ones. One day your daughter will come home with that lovesick look on her face. I’m sure every dad dreads this day, but it can actually be a great teaching experience. Teach your child that a healthy romantic relationship is not just a love-at-first-sight, romantic-kiss-at-sunset kind of love—there’s more to a person than good looks or nice gifts. If you teach your children early on to value kindness, respect, loyalty, and selflessness as essential virtues in any good relationship, then when the time comes, they are likely to select partners with these characteristics. Establish these virtues in your home and your child will always value them.
- . . . work together and play together. The best way to teach this is to do it! Set up an assembly line for the dishes or spend a Saturday planting flowers or picking vegetables. Then, when everyone’s done their part, you can reward yourselves by going out for ice cream, playing games or sports together, etc. Children will learn, first, that hard work can be satisfying and rewarding and, second, that chipping in to do their part draws the family together and is a lot better than working all alone!
So what’s the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Oh, go ahead and enjoy some Hershey Kisses and conversation hearts if you like, but don’t forget to emphasize these aspects of real love—especially togetherness. Make valentines for each other, clean each other’s rooms, or pile on the couch for a fun movie. Growing up, my mother would leave us each a treat at the breakfast table and a note filled with things she loved about us. My in-laws write notes to each other on colorful heart cutouts and put them in cloth pouches labeled with everyone’s names. So while some people like to call Valentine’s Day “Singles Awareness Day,” remember that this day doesn’t have to be just about romantic relationships—celebrate familial love too. (And I’m not saying you have to ditch the chocolate!)