How to Explain Valentine's Day to Your Child

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Young child making a Valentine's Day card.
Young child making a Valentine's Day card. (Image: Ron Chapple Stock/Ron Chapple Studios/Getty Images)

Valentine’s Day can be a confusing time for children, who are suddenly bombarded with hearts, cards, candy and valentines. It can also be emotionally confusing, as advertising and friends suggest that valentines are social capital and that those who don’t receive a certain number are inferior. The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day are a time to explain the true meaning of the holiday while incorporating some life-long lessons on self-worth and the importance of giving.

The History of Valentine's Day

Explain to your children that Valentine’s Day originated thousands of years ago as a Roman festival practiced annually on Feb. 15. Christians later used this day to honor one of their heroes, a man named Valentine. According to legend, the emperor tried to stop soldiers from getting married, but Valentine married them in secret. For this, the emperor had him imprisoned. Some legends add that Valentine cut hearts out of parchment and gave them to soldiers to remind them that they were loved.

Explaining Cupid

The sight of winged Cupid shooting arrows can be perplexing for little ones. Briefly recount for them the ancient story of Cupid and Psyche: Long ago, there were two sisters, Venus and Psyche, but everyone loved Psyche and thought she was the more beautiful of the two. So Venus sought the aid of Cupid, who could make people fall in love by shooting arrows. But Cupid shot himself accidentally with one of his arrows and fell in love with Psyche. Today, when people fall in love, others may say that Cupid has shot them with his arrows.

The Spirit of Giving

Explain to your children that Valentine’s Day has become a significant industry in which corporations earn millions of dollars selling sweets and pre-written valentines. In the process, people’s feelings get hurt because their expectations for the holiday are so high. Let your children know that the real meaning of the holiday is about giving to others. In that spirit, create homemade crafts and notes with construction paper, crayons, markers, glitter and other craft utensils.

Managing Disappointment

Sometimes the hardest part of Valentine’s Day for young people is facing the possibility of rejection, especially if it seems as if everyone else is getting attention and they’ve been left out. Remind them that a person’s worth is not measured in the number of cards or candy others give them and that they’re loved and worthy of being loved regardless. Encourage them to think of others by looking out for peers who might also feel excluded and encouraging them.

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