Parents

How To Talk To Your Kids About Love On Valentine's Day

Inevitably, your kid is going to get their heart broken.
Parents should watch for signs that their children may be affected by Valentine’s Day pressures.
Parents should watch for signs that their children may be affected by Valentine’s Day pressures.

Great expectations.

Those two words are aptly attributed to Feb. 14, a day when many celebrate Valentine’s Day. And while we’ve been told that high expectations can often lead to disappointment, it doesn’t stop the most hopeful of us.

How quickly these dreams can be shattered, however. Just ask Marcus Anwar. The business owner from London, Ont., and father of two — a daughter, 12 and a son, 10 — learned very quickly about the painful reality of unrequited affections.

WATCH: How to talk to your kids about romance. Story continues below.

Anwar’s daughter Tila had been excited about the prospect of Valentine’s Day. There had been a boy at school that she liked. “I want him to come over and watch movies with me, like a date,” she told her parents. It was then that Anwar and his wife learned the extent of her crush.

“That’s when we knew she liked him more than just a friend,” he told HuffPost Canada.

The young girl’s fantasy of a “date” at her home was abruptly quashed when her plan to have her crush over to her home was not to be. “He doesn’t like me!” she cried to her father when he came to pick her up from school that afternoon. “He likes another girl more!”

This painful Valentine’s Day realization may have been the first for the young girl, but likely may not be the last.

Even though there’s a growing call for an “all-or-nothing” Valentine’s Day celebration in some schools, not every student – or their parents – have received the proverbial memo.

With Valentine’s Day highly anticipated for weeks beforehand, both in media and in stores, it’s no wonder that kids will also jump on the bandwagon.

A highly-anticipated event

It’s the ubiquity of Valentine-themed items in what seems to be every retail outlet that adds to children feeling both excited and pressured, says Dr. Sean Hayes, a Montreal-based psychologist with expertise in interpersonal development.

“One of the toughest places to go leading up to Valentine’s Day are the card sections of these large pharmacy chains that have idealized images of romances that we’re all expected to live up to,” he told HuffPost Canada.

Such displays underscore the societal ideal suggesting that everyone should have a Valentine and those who don’t are lacking. Adding to this are the seemingly joyful images of Valentine’s Day bliss seen by kids who are already feeling anxious.

“One of the toughest places to go leading up to Valentine’s Day are the card sections of these large pharmacy chains that have idealized images of romances that we’re all expected to live up to.”

- Dr. Sean Hayes

Dr. Hayes encourages parents to watch for signs that their children may be affected by Valentine’s Day pressures.

“If your child is withdrawn, sullen, or uncommunicative about [Valentine’s Day], their behaviour may be a sign that they feel hurt or ashamed.”

He advises parents to give their child space, but to also let their child know that they are available and open to hearing about what is troubling them.

A positive outlook

John Baumann, a semi-retired teacher in Toronto and father of four, now grown, has seen his fair share of Valentine’s Day celebrations both inside the classroom and out.

Along with the disappointments that are to be expected each year, there are also the beginnings of kids’ attempts at public shaming at the expense of their classmates.

“Occasionally [in a primary classroom] someone proclaims that this girl likes that boy … often with the motive of embarrassing one or both parties,” Baumann told HuffPost Canada. “That’s a time I always felt compelled to ask, ‘So what?’ and to defend a child’s right to like whoever they like.”

Realistic Valentine's Day Ideas For Parents

While he acknowledges that there were Valentine-related disappointments in his classes (usually because some children didn’t have cards to share with all their friends), it was the careful handling of this sensitive subject that made a world of difference.

Taking a positive approach, he “redirected the students’ attention to the affection being showered on them,” and reminded them about how “next year they could always make a plan [to give Valentine’s to other kids].”

Dr. Hayes suggests that parents can take this time of the year to have conversations with their children about the reality of friendships and love.

“Take the opportunity around Valentine’s Day to have conversations with your kids about the reality of friendships and love. That it isn’t all tied up into one event – that real friendships, real love is over time, made up of many small gestures.”

“[Valentine's Day] isn’t all tied up into one event ... real friendships, real love is over time, made up of many small gestures.”

- Dr. Sean Hayes

He suggests that parents can even use their own relationships with their partners and with their children to demonstrate the different kinds of love.

“Remind your kids of people who have shown them love over time: their friends who have stood by them; their friends who are there every day – even beyond Valentine’s Day. That kind of love is just as important, if not even more important.”

Back in the Anwar home, all was well that ended well. They decided that they’d take the opportunity to show their daughter that Valentine’s Day is all about love— and not necessarily from a boy at school or from a partner. They showed their daughter that love can come from many places, including home.

“What my wife and I did was order pizza and watch [Tila’s] favourite movies with her,” said Anwar. “The same thing she wanted to do with her crush, my wife and I did with her, instead. We were her Valentine’s Day date.”

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