Put a little love in your heart…and HIS heart! And HER heart! And THEIR hearts! (And their mailboxes, too!) There’s no better time than Valentine’s Day for teaching kids about kindness. But finding ways to get kids to be thoughtful can be tricky, especially for the younger ones.
As parents, we want our children to understand concepts like gratitude and appreciation. We want to raise compassionate humans who spread love like Nutella. But we are swamped and overwhelmed…and probably STILL working on the decorated shoeboxes for the Valentine party.
So how do you turn regular, everyday moments into opportunities to teach how nice it is to, well, be nice? Here are a few ideas.
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The most important thing is to teach kids to notice opportunities to be kind themselves. And that means helping them be more aware of the people around them—especially the ones who might need a little extra love. Ask your kiddos to think about:
- Classmates who may be shy or do not seem to have a lot of friends. Is there anyone who eats alone in the cafeteria? Sits alone on the playground? Doesn’t get asked to join in the fun? Ask your child to describe different ways they could extend a little kindness. Brainstorm ways to offer friendship (or half a sandwich). Then, set a goal for the day or week to reach out.
- Adults who may be sad or lonely. Our elderly neighbors lost their beloved dog this year, and they’ve really been down about it. Amy talked to her girls about what to do to cheer them up. And even though they can’t fix what’s upsetting them, they can could show their support and love: The girls wrote notes and drew pictures of the dog. They also found a photo of the pupper on social media, printed it and had it nicely framed as a gift. The girls got to see the huge difference such a small gesture can make and how much it can mean to honor and acknowledge someone else’s grief.
- Friends who are going through a tough time. One of our girls recently mentioned that a friend’s parents were divorcing. It was an opportunity to talk about what that means for the friend, how much her life would change and how she might be feeling. It was a chance to talk about empathy, and it opened the door to talk about what being a good friend really means. What can you say or do to help your friend? What would you like to hear if you were her? How can you help her feel comforted and loved and supported?
Being nice is more than just noticing when someone’s down in the dumps—it’s for celebrating the good times. Make Valentine’s Day about remembering and being grateful for all of the people who make our lives better. Specifically, ask kids to think about who might love to receive a valentine with a thoughtful message, including:
- Grandparents, both the ones nearby and the ones who live far away
- Teachers and coaches, whose patience deserves way more than heart-shaped chocolates
- Cousins—the fun-bringers, hug-givers, good friends who (bonus!) you’re related to!
- Friends, both the “besties” and the casual acquaintances who you see in the hallways or talk video games with
- Neighbors/bus drivers/lunch ladies, etc.—those people who do a lot for us, when we really think about it
Here are some kid-friendly, easy ideas to get you started.
- Make a kindness chain. Plan to do something nice for someone else every day. At dinner on February 1, talk about what everybody did, and write each kindness on a long, thin rectangle of red or pink construction paper. Tape the first one into a circle to start the chain and link the next one through it. See how long you can make your chain in the two weeks before Valentine’s Day.
- “Change” the world. Wrap a few quarters in Valentine-y tissue paper or a baggie, and attach a tag that says, “Love can CHANGE the world!” Pass them out at a local laundromat.
- Donate Valentine goodies. Give your kids a budget (so they have to do math!), and let them choose Valentine cards or treats to donate to their school. The social worker or counselor can distribute them to kids whose families might not be able to purchase their own for class parties.
- Warm hearts (and heads and hands). If you live in a cold climate, donate hats and gloves for students or neighbors in need.
- Fill a pantry. Let the kids choose favorite cereals, pastas or canned goods to donate. You can take the goods to a local food pantry or—our favorite—stock up the nearest Little Free Pantry. Bonus points for fun or heartfelt Valentine notes taped to each item.
- Lend a hand. Come up with a chore you can do for someone in the neighborhood: doing yard work for a single parent, organizing the garage for elderly neighbors or washing the car for the guy down the street with the broken leg.
- Make a personalized valentine or thank-you note. Make a list of all the ways someone you love makes you smile. Then write them a note, and tuck the list inside.
Who needs conversation hearts to tell kids “U R Cool?” The coolest kids are the kindest kids. Let hugs, thoughtfulness and good deeds bring the fun and love this Valentine’s Day.