Love is always something to celebrate. And when that celebration comes with candy, rom-coms, and a reason to schedule a date with my husband, I’m all for it. Now that we have a 5-year-old daughter, it’s even more fun to celebrate any holiday big or small like Valentine’s Day (and teach some important life lessons along the way). We love to cut out paper hearts and make garland to hang in our kitchen. We also love to decorate Valentine’s Day cookies. (There’s a pattern of excuses to indulge in a sweet treat here, if you hadn’t noticed.)
However, when it comes to explaining the meaning of Valentine’s Day to my preschooler, it’s not about the romance. Instead, I want to focus on kindness, friendship, and loving herself. These principles and important lessons can be imparted year-round, of course, but more often than I’d like, I let moments of wisdom get lost in the shuffle of our busy lives. So this Valentine’s Day, I’m using the holiday as a teaching opportunity as well as an excuse to eat some extra chocolate. Read on for the important lessons I’m teaching my daughter this Valentine’s Day.
The Important Lessons I’m Teaching My Daughter This Valentine’s Day
Letting Her Be a Kid
It wasn’t until I became a parent that I noticed a problem with the jokes some adults tend to make about young kids and romance. For example, if a little boy and girl love playing together, there might be comments tossed around about them being “boyfriend and girlfriend.” This type of humor both concerns and perplexes me. Why can’t they just enjoy being buddies? When was it decided that their friendship must be more than that? While such remarks may seem innocuous, I have to wonder what kind of message they send to kids my daughter’s age who can understand and absorb more of what adults are saying.
I counter any comments like this with what I hope is a gentle but firm reply about the kids being, well, kids. It’s usually something along the lines of, “There will be plenty of time to worry about dating later, when they’re actually old enough to date. I’m just glad they’re friends and that they get along so well.” Though it may be uncomfortable in the moment, making sure my daughter is able to enjoy her friendships–without any romantic commentary–is my responsibility.
Focusing on Relationships She Can Understand
We are inundated with messages about what love should look like and how relationships are formed, be it a fairytale ending, an unrealistic romantic movie setup, or a reality dating show where the contestants “fall in love” within a very short span of time. While I find a good meet-cute just as entertaining as most people, it’s not reality.
I know the values I give to my daughter now will serve her well as a young adult, when she might be finding love for the first time, so I try to be aware of the media we consume. We favor movies where the female characters are the heroines and don’t need to be rescued by a prince. We read about the importance of kindness and empathy, which are integral to any relationship.
One of our most beloved traditions is putting seasonal books on a special shelf in my daughter’s room. In February, we especially love displaying stories that celebrate friendship. (We also, of course, read some cute Valentine’s Day books for kids.)
Here are a few of our favorite books about friendship and kindness:
Laying a Supportive Foundation for Her Future
In addition to how my daughter may find love one day, I don’t want to make assumptions about who she’ll love, if she’ll choose to get married, or if she’ll become a mother. My goal will always be to offer her my unwavering support. At her current age, I’m keeping it simple: I avoid any presumptive statements about her future choices. Instead, we tend to focus on her present friendships.
As a curious preschooler, though, she’s starting to ask more questions about things like marriage. When she does, I try to use verbiage such as, “The person you choose to be with one day.” Discussing the many ways people can make a family has also been helpful. For now, this seems to be enough; however, I realize that one day it will be more complicated. Until then, I’m doing my best to send my daughter the message that there’s more than one right way to have a loving relationship.
Loving Herself First
The old adage definitely applies here: “You can’t love someone until you love yourself.” I’m striving to foster my daughter’s self-esteem from an early age so she can have healthy and fulfilling relationships, both with herself and with another person if she so chooses. This may seem like common sense, but it’s also backed by research. According to studies done by Michelle A. Harris, PhD, of the University of Texas at Austin, “Positive relationships with parents may cultivate self-esteem in children, which leads to more positive relationships with peers in adolescence, which may further strengthen the self-esteem of emerging adults, and so on into late adulthood.” The cumulative effect that loving herself will have on my daughter’s future connections with others is evident.
At bedtime my daughter and I often reflect on our day and what we’re grateful for. When discussing our anticipation of Valentine’s Day, I recently asked her to list three things she loves about herself. Her answers ranged from silly (I love my wiggly toes!) to profound (I’m proud that I was kind to my friend when he was sad). It makes me glad that, amidst the daily chaos, we’re doing something to pause and look inward. Like many parents, we believe in positive reinforcement for our daughter. My husband and I make a point to give her compliments that are not solely based on looks but that focus more on her personal qualities. The way I talk about myself is important too, because she’s always watching and observing. As much as I can preach self-confidence, I know it’s my responsibility to model it as well.
Ultimately, my hope is that my daughter will enjoy Valentine’s Day: a holiday full of hearts, love, friends, and fun. I’m lucky to experience any special occasion through her eyes and to guide her through life into adulthood. Moreover, I’m especially fortunate to have two valentines this year (my sweet girl and my husband), neither of whom like the chocolates with coconut filling. That just means more for me.