Parentalk: Valentine's Day: Are our children too young or should we introduce the concept?
It is that time of the year again when the stores are red, florist shops abundant in blooms, and valentine's parties all over the internet. One of my friends in the US sent me pictures of 25 gift bags yesterday, each intended for her 3-year-old child's classmates. Their school has made it a ritual for kids to gift goodie bags to each other. While the waste bothered me, I also found it super sweet for kids to be exploring the concept of love early in life. They also had storytelling sessions around love and the teacher asked all students about what/who they loved the most.
That makes me wonder, what is it about Valentine's Day that scares us. Is it the fear that they'd be exposed to commercial aspects too early, the fear of pedophiles and groomers, or the apprehension that they'll be in a rush to fall into romantic relationships?
Well, I fear all these aspects. I think that as a teenager; I have unrealistic ideas about love thanks to the media I was exposed to. Serials, mills and boons, and all the beautifully decked up Archies stores instilled the belief in me that the celebration of love meant gifts, that true love was going hungry or cutting wrists, and that it was ok to lose yourself completely in love. Several bad relationships, a good marriage, and a lot of reading later, I have been able to look at it with a broader view.
Now that I have 2 young kids, I find it imperative to research and be equipped with the right way to talk to them about it all. They will anyway be exposed to content and the glam surrounding these days and it makes sense to address their queries before they form their notions.
Here is how parents can approach the concept of Valentine's Day to make it age-appropriate for children:
- Celebrate it with them: Love is one of the first emotions that children experience as they step into the world and that deserves a celebration. It is a good idea to talk to them about the significance of love, and what Valentine's Day means. This will help to tell them that love is between parents and children, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren, and many other people. You can tell older children how advertisers and other people make it only about couples because it serves their agenda.
- Read books about love: The world of children's literature is abundant in heartwarming reads about love and life. One of my personal favorites is the book 'No Matter What’ by Debi Gliori. It is an affirmative read about the love of parents for their children. Chuchu Manthu's Bag full of Toffees is another and there are many more. Reading these books with your child and having a conversation about love is a great way to celebrate Valentine's Day with children.
- Help them make gifts and cards: Capitalism and toxic gifting culture have made celebrations more about gifts and presentation. In times when price tags define the value of gifts, it is important to tell children that gifts are supposed to express love, regard, and gratitude. They need not be fancy objects from the store. Help them make cards and gifts, ask them who they'd like to give them to, and let them experience the beauty of love and expression. For his childhood friend's birthday, my child made a card; the friend received it and hugged him in joy. Ever since he wants to make cards for everyone that makes him happy and my heart beams in joy to see those scribbles and drawings. This helps them to look beyond capitalistic campaigns and enjoy the true essence of love.
- Do special things for them: You cannot normalize family love and teach your children to express it without expressing it yourself. You can even go with the trend, make heart-shaped toast or pancake or write a love card.
- Instill the importance of friendship: Kids need to learn about friendships and resolving disputes. They must know how to regard the feelings of others while taking a stand for themselves. You must also teach them to walk out of friendships that make them feel sad, affect their self-esteem, and do not sync with their personality. These are important skills that can be nurtured only by conversation. These skills will equip them to handle romantic relationships later in life.
- Do not make discussions about love and romance taboo: I know many parents who get livid if their child takes interest in scenes about love or talks about girlfriends and boyfriends. In this era of information overload, they will seek answers or listening ears elsewhere if you do not offer them. If you are not ok with certain content, keep it off-limit rather than chastising them from getting interested in it. If they come across something in books or videos, talk about it in positive ways. Let them know how to deal with situations when they encounter them in real life.
- Talk about romantic relationships: Romantic relationships are all around our children. It doesn’t make sense to keep them away from the concept only because we think they are too young. Talk to them about happy relationships around and what makes them happy. Take it as an opportunity to convey the importance of consent even in the closest relationships. Also talk about mutual respect, valuing other person’s emotions and space in relationships.
- Do not refer to other children as their romantic mates: Referring to a cute friend at school or playground as a boyfriend or girlfriend may seem harmless fun to you but it sets a wrong precedent. It also normalizes romance at an early age and makes them more vulnerable to pedophiles.
- Talk about loving the earth, animals, nature, community helpers, and everything else: Go for a nature walk, talk about how the earth and every little element of nature deserve love for their contribution. Talk about the housekeeper, security guard, and all other community helpers who make living easier. They will love better and do better if they learn to appreciate the little things.
Valentine’s Day and all the hullabaloo around it may seem cringe-worthy but it is up to parents how they make it a learning opportunity for their kids. You cannot change how the world functions but it can sure be a chance to explore the beautiful feeling called love.
All the Best!
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.