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Lessons of Love for Children This Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is the perfect time to celebrate diversity and teach love and acceptance for others

Lessons of Love for Children This Valentine's Day

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As a child, my father gave me a gift wrapped in red paper on Valentine's Day. He told me years later that it was his responsibility to spoil me until I had a partner to do just that. I still remember the gesture more than what was under the wrapping paper. While I believe that feeling of being loved unconditionally by a parent is still so important for today's children, there's another vital lesson we can teach this Valentine's Day: How to learn to love one another.

That's not to say our children should love the child who sits beside them at school. But in a world scarred by so much divisiveness, our children must learn to accept the differences surrounding them. Those who differ from us in religion, culture, race, sexual orientation—or in any way— should be considered our equals. Valentine's Day is the perfect time to remind our children that diversity is beautiful.

At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared Valentine's Day a religious celebration. Eventually, it was combined with Lupercalia, an ancient Roman holiday celebrating fertility through a ritual in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar—historians believe this led to Valentine's Day being all about love.

Why we need lessons of love for others this Valentine's Day

In many classrooms on February 14th, you'll find walls decorated in red with hearts hanging from the ceiling. Handmade mailboxes decorated in glitter are filled with postcards exuding kindness and friendship. We teach our children to express love for everyone in their class on Valentine's Day—no one should be excluded—so why not have a conversation about diversity when it matters most?

According to the FBI, hate crime incidents increased by 794 in 2022. These incidents were directed at Blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ individuals, Jews, and Muslims, among others. Perpetrators resort to violence to express their disapproval of those who differ from them, and our children are watching as the occurrence of hate crimes continues to expand.

The American Psychological Association (APA) noted that young adults who faced discrimination frequently—at least a few times per month—were around 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder and twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress. We must teach our children to speak up when they witness discrimination and accept differences. We must also remember that children can be the target of hate crimes, too. Speaking to them about acceptance can make all the difference.

Silvia Dutchevici, LCSW, in an article for Psychology Today, said, "We live in a war culture that promotes violence, in which competition is a way of life." She stated that, as a society, we're more ready to fight than to resolve conflict. We must transition away from discrimination, and this change must start with our children—with our help, they can shape their future.

mom talking to daughter, both similing iStock

How to teach children to celebrate differences

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The Pennsylvania State University lists five ways to teach children about respecting differences, including celebrating differences, creating diversity in your environment, teaching children about empathy, unlearning your own biases, and keeping the conversation going. They note that open discussions about differences and similarities between people enable children to ask the questions naturally arising in their minds.

Literature representing diverse cultures and teaching your children about other ways of life help promote acceptance. Learning about diversity as an adult helps dissolve personal biases we may be unaware of, which can indirectly positively impact our children.

We should start these conversations young and allow them to continue indefinitely. PBS noted that Phyllis A. Katz, a past professor at the University of Colorado, found that babies as young as six months stared significantly longer at photos of adults of different colours than their parents. This research suggests that children notice variations in race, ability, and family composition, among other factors, at a young age.

Our job is to engage them in conversation and answer their questions, which are an attempt to make sense of what they observe. Only then can we begin to build a world where acceptance drowns out negativity—a world where hate crimes are no longer tolerated.

It is no secret that our world needs repair. Through our youth, we can change the future. So, this year, on February 14th, show your children how much you love them. Give them a gift wrapped in shiny red paper or write them a love letter. But then teach them to care about those who differ from them. Remind them that diversity is beautiful and that our words and actions matter.

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Let's talk to our children about loving one another for who we are this Valentine's Day. And then, let's make sure the conversation never ends.

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