In some ways, Valentine's Day feels like a Hallmark holiday if ever there was one… a convenient excuse for stores to sell cards, flowers, and chocolates. In reality, the holiday dates far back, with origins centuries old. Formal 'Valentine' messages date back to at least the 1500s, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, with commercially printed cards being used since the 1700s. Cupid, the Roman god of love, has often been depicted on these cards, along with images of the heart. Celebrated throughout the world, the Valentine's holiday has long been recognized as a time to express romantic love.
In more recent generations, Valentine's Day has expanded to be a time of celebrating other types of affection and friendship, such as the tradition of school children exchanging Valentine cards and candy. It is also popular to celebrate Valentine's Day within families through the small token of a gift or card.
We think that Valentine's Day presents an even more compelling opportunity to reflect on and grow in God's love, or agape love. Agape love is different from romantic or emotional love. It is the highest form of love, the love of God for man and man for God.
As parents, how can we lead our children in loving this way? How can we teach our children to show demonstrative love to each other, and to other special people in their lives? How can we teach our children to be receptive to how the Spirit wants to move in and through us, sharing His love with others?
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We know from Ephesians 4:32 that we are to be tender-hearted and kind, and from Luke 6:31, that we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. How do we break this down for our kids, to teach them tangible ways to love others well?
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Let's explore some practical ways to love others well.
Hitting the Mark with Our Love
If we take a cue from The Five Love Languages, the best selling book by Gary Chapman, we can teach our children how we all give and receive love in our own particular way. Chapman proposes five main ways to give and receive love:
- Quality Time
- Physical Touch
- Acts of Service
- Giving Gifts
- Words of Affirmation
We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Five Love Languages to learn more about ways to love your spouse and children and read it at your leisure. But, for this Valentine's Day, ask your children to be super sleuths and discover how someone special in their lives, be it a grandparent, sibling, neighbor, friend, etc., likes to receive love. Give them a hint: a big clue can simply be looking to see how they tend to give love!
Or teach them to simply ask! Remind your kids, the more specific they can be in discovering what someone loves, the better. If someone we love feels especially loved through gifts, what 'gifts' do they especially love? If they love flowers, what kind of color is their favorite? Maybe they hate chocolate but secretly love skittles… so give them skittles!
Love is a Verb
Some people love gifts, but others feel loved when we take time out of our day to spend with them. Think about arranging a Valentine's Day visit for your kids with their grandmother, and have them think about questions to ask her. What was it like growing up? What is she most proud of in her life? Does she wish she could have changed anything? Or have them ask their grandfather to teach them a skill that he is particularly good at!
What is behind the traditional breakfast in bed on Mother's Day? It is an act of service. It is a way to serve someone in the same way they have always served us. It's a little like walking in someone else's shoes for a while. Serving someone in this way says, "I see what you do for me, and I know how it feels."
Consider creating a "Thank You Challenge" for your family and encourage your children to find someone to serve in a loving way this way on Valentine's Day. Help them make a fun, specific plan to do it!
Some people's love cups run over when they share hugs and cuddles. There is a very logical explanation for this. When humans experience physical touch, we secrete a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone encourages bonding. It makes us feel safe and loved. Not every person likes to be touched, though, and not everyone wants to give hugs, but we all love to feel loved. The good news is just sitting close to someone has the same bonding effect as touch! So get the family together and cuddle on the couch for a Valentine's Day movie!
The Power of Words
Dale Carnegie says in his book How to Make Friends and Influence People that
"we have in our power the chance to increase the sum of the whole world's happiness."
He says we can do this by giving honest and sincere words of appreciation. People love to be recognized--not in a prideful, conceited way but in a sincere and authentic way. People love to be seen and to be counted--to be considered worthy. Consider issuing a Valentine's Day Challenge to your family this year: Can you spend the day saying only kind words to friends and family, and speaking words that intentionally build others up?
While some people might be especially attuned to feeling loved through words of affection and appreciation, such spoken words can go far in showing love to absolutely anyone. This is a really powerful skill for our children to learn. Too often, we assume that those we love know we love and appreciate them, and so we leave it unsaid. Some of our children might be especially guilty of this! Let Valentine's Day be a chance for our kids to practice saying or writing specific words of appreciation and love to someone special in their lives! Encourage them to write a thoughtful note to a friend, relative, or neighbor, or to pick up the phone and make a call to express well-thought-out words of affection and appreciation.
To love people well through our words means to love them where they are. Sometimes, in our humanity, we use our words (even seemingly 'kind' ones) to try to shape or manipulate people's behavior. This is so different from the love of Christ who loved us while we were still sinners, and entirely different from what we are trying to teach our children.
Speak affirming words to honor and love others exactly as they are in this moment, without any hidden agenda. God gave us the family and friends and colleagues that we love most but also the ones we like least, and He gave us a simple commandment: love others as you love yourself.
Playing a little on the romantic flair of the holiday, let's use Valentine's Day as a time to teach about manners and etiquette and sweet acts of service. In other words, this holiday is a great time to teach about courtesy! (And yes, these skills might someday serve them well on a date! And in the meantime... make for really thoughtful family culture.)
Courtesy is a way we show love and affection but also kindness and respect. It's the idea from Romans 12:9-10:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Courtesy includes all the tangible little things that show others that we have been mindful of their well-being over our own. It's also treating others in the way we likewise hope to be treated, and that is the golden rule: Treat others as you would have them treat you.
In everyday language, courtesy translates to throwing out the empty toilet paper roll and replacing it with a new one; it is asking anyone else at the table if you can pour them a glass of water when you get up to pour one for yourself. It's offering your seat on the bus to someone older or disabled. It is taking your shoes off when you enter someone's home and saying please and thank you. It's looking the other way when someone has clearly committed an embarrassing social faux pas and smoothing over any discomfort the person might feel. In short, it's being gracious and kind, and quick to serve.
Teaching our children to be considerate of those around them, looking out for their well-being, and treating others with kindness and service are ways of teaching them how to act respectfully. And yes, that starts with simple things like holding a door for others or letting someone step ahead and go first.
Each family has their own ideas on what they consider courteous behavior. Some will undoubtedly be more formally taught than others. Let Valentine's Day be the one day this year that everyone puts their best foot forward. Make it an adventure. Go to a restaurant or on a family date where everyone does their best to be the most courteous--of course, just make sure it doesn't end up in a game of "You first! No, you first! No, you first!" Although it is possible that when you have reached the point of this silliness, you may have altogether succeeded in your mission!
The Gift of Receiving
I know the gift I gave, but I do not know the gift you have received.
Receiving a gift is a special skill we all need to learn. Too often pride, embarrassment, or discomfort cause us to snub the giver. Some teenagers with their limited vocabulary are especially guilty of this trespass. Does this sound familiar?
"Did you enjoy the meal?"
"It was okay."
"Do you like the book?"
"Did you have a nice time?"
"It was fine."
Teach your children to recognize the gift that is given. Did the giver spend time picking out a special gift or activity based on what they thought you would like? Did they wrap or plan it with special care? Does the gift carry a special message? Was the card written with intentionality?
Next, teach your child to take moment to study the gift, then look the giver in the eye, smile and find one nice thing to say about it.
There is a difference between accepting a gift and receiving it. Accepted gifts end up in the pile of items headed to the yard sale. Received gifts are the ones that are cherished because of a connection with the giver. In receiving a gift well, you give a gift in return. You give the gift of acceptance, kindness, gratitude, and grace.
Amid the Valentine's Day bustle, take the time to think through one or two ways that resonate with you and the ways you want your children to grow in how they love and treat others. Use this time when they are young to train them in these skills! Consider taking time with your children in advance of the holiday to pray about how God would specifically have your family show love to others (and each other!) on this Valentine's Day.