It’s a familiar scene. A mother attempts to comfort her young daughter as tears stream down the girl’s face. All of the daughter’s friends received a valentine from someone and she is the only one without. A day that was supposed to be about celebrating love has turned into a popularity contest.
It’s a tale as old as time, and for children and parents alike, just as heartbreaking. As parents, we wonder what we can do to help our children when they feel excluded on Valentine’s Day.
Fortunately, many elementary school teachers now ask their students to send valentines to everyone in the class. But, for a kid who has aged out of classroom celebrations, Valentine’s Day is more of an informal celebration left between passing periods and in the cafeteria. A student’s day can end up being filled with watching classmates receive cards, flowers and candy from friends, while they are left empty handed. It can leave adolescents feeling unpopular and heartbroken. Here are a few ideas on how to help your child when they are feeling left out on Valentine’s Day.
Focus on Being Kind to Others
"This is a really good opportunity to start teaching children about the value of being kind to others and of putting yourself in another person's shoes. That can be a hard thing for kids to do," said Dr. Jessica Luitjohan, a pediatric psychologist at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "If you can help your child understand why they include all of their classmates so no one feels left behind, you've gone a long way toward helping them learn compassion for others."
Tips for Valentine’s Day Victories
- Ask your school about policies regarding valentine distribution so every child can feel included.
- Encourage your child to include everyone and to reach out to kids who may be left out.
- Use Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to discuss with your kids the meaning of love and friendship and why it should be celebrated.
- Talk to older kids about Valentine’s Day emotions. Middle-schoolers especially tend to be focused on themselves and just their close friends around them. Talk to them about how a Valentine’s Day gesture could make others feel lonely or left out, even if they have the best intentions.
- If your child is disappointed, acknowledge their feelings and discussion their emotions without judgement. Consider phrases such as: “you sound very hurt”, “oh?, that must be painful, I’m sorry…”Avoid using phrases like: “you’re not the only one,” or, “toughen up!” Follow up with questions like “what do you wish could be different?” and “what would you like to do?”
- Plan something special together with your family like staying up past bedtime on a school night for popcorn and a movie or slip a Valentine’s Day treat into their lunchbox or backpack
If your child is feeling sad or excluded, the absolute best thing you can do is reassure them that you love them unconditionally and they are worthy of that love. Many parents across the internet have shared scores of other ideas and suggested ways to help your child understand the true meaning of love, feel special, and be resilient…life lessons that will last well beyond the holiday.
With an eye to the best for our kids,
Michele Autenrieth Brown is the Vice President of Marketing and Development at Clarity Child Guidance Center. She became passionate mental health advocate after trying to navigate the system of care to support a family member. When she is not shuttling kids to practices or spending time with her husband, Michele is perfecting just what to say to get the perfect eye roll and sigh from her teen and pre-teen children.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 9-1-1. If you need help locating mental health resources in your area, visit the Bexar County Community Resource website, call your local health department or the National Alliance Mental Illness's helpline at 800-950-NAMI (6264).