Raising Kind Children: The Importance of a Valentine
We celebrated Valentine’s Day at our school this week. Students decorated bags and exchanged valentines with their classmates, practicing writing and matching names from cards to bags. One ambitious class took it upon themselves to give a surprise ‘heart attack’ to all the other classrooms – leaving a card for each child and a decorated classroom in their wake! We played heart tag, valentine bingo, did special cooking projects, and much more. We also used the opportunity to talk about kindness, sharing, and practiced giving compliments to our friends. There is really nothing else like the excitement of seeing so many young children sharing their Valentine’s cards.
This week I also saw the results of an internet poll on the mobile app, Show of Hands. The poll asked for a Yes or No response to the following; “Should elementary school kids who bring Valentine’s Day cards to school have to bring a card for every student in the class?”. Of the 126 respondents from around the U.S., 57% voted ‘No’, and I have to admit that I was both surprised and saddened. In my many years of working with early childhood and early elementary students, I have been witness to dozens of classrooms full of students passing out and receiving Valentines. In most cases the sheer pleasure of selecting and preparing the cards for others and giving them away has exceeded that of being on the receiving end. While this was certainly a small sampling, I can only guess that the adults who voted “No” made this choice out of a belief that they were respecting each child’s ‘individuality’ and protecting their ‘freedom’. Or could it just be a matter of forgetting just how much it must hurt to be the child who is left out?
What I do know for sure is that the child who does not receive a card from a classmate does notice – and that this small slight, added up with many others over time, can leave a profound mark. I’m also sure that as adults we are more than aware which students are most prone to this exclusion: the boy who has trouble with self-regulation, the girl with the ill-fitting or dirty clothes, the child with a disability, or the one who speaks another language. And isolated children can become very angry, isolated adults.
As children grow up, they move beyond being fast friends with everyone they share a toy with, and they learn that everyone won’t be best friends with everyone else. However, in this world with too many examples of prejudice and exclusion here at home and around the world, shouldn’t we take this opportunity to support and model acceptance and empathy while we still can? As children grow up, they move from having just a few primary role models (family, trusted friends, teachers) to a life stage where the impact of the outside world and peer pressure becomes much more profound. Let’s use the time we do have to its maximum value, encouraging children to learn the importance of kindness, generosity, empathy, and acceptance of others. Early childhood and the elementary years are a time where adults can still have a huge impact on teaching these valuable, life-long skills. I know our recent designation at Tobin as a Kindness Certified School made all of us feel proud of our important work, and it reminded us that it will have a long-term impact. As Fred Rogers so aptly said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.” Words to live by.