Children's Health

Emotions Can Run High on Valentine’s Day

As classrooms across Michigan fill with Valentine’s candy, cards and games this month, some children may experience anxiety about this holiday and what it represents. According to Steve Pastyrnak, Ph.D., child psychologist, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the chocolate-filled holiday can have psychological implications and encourages parents to talk with their children about the meaning of the holiday.

“Valentine’s Day has essentially developed into a holiday devoted to relationships,” said Pastyrnak. “Although we associate Valentine’s Day with romantic love, it also can be a time to celebrate friendships and family relationships. Younger children can be challenged by the day if they have experienced any type of loss or peer problems.”

Parents influence their child’s Valentine’s Day experience.

“A child whose parents are divorced may have concerns about the parent with whom they are not spending time on Valentine’s Day,” adds Pastyrnak. “Children often model the feelings their parents and caregivers express. If a parent demonstrates any ill feelings toward the holiday, children may experience bad feelings through association.’ Most schools do a good job of making sure that all elementary students receive a Valentine from each classmate, thereby reducing the likelihood of a popularity contest developing.”‘

Traditions are something Pastyrnak encourages. The Haan family of Grand Rapids celebrates Valentine’s Day with a fancy dinner at home.

“As a mother of five children, I know each child responds to the holiday differently,” said Michele Haan. “We try to focus on teaching our kids to love everyone, everyday.’ Our special Valentine’s dinner is a celebration of the love we share as a family and the love we hope to extend to others around us throughout the year.”

‘Pastyrnak recommends five tips to keep the holiday in perspective.

  • Teach children to celebrate a variety of relationships not just the romantic ones.
  • The stress and pressure of Valentine’s Day should be addressed by parents if they perceive it to be an issue.
  • Teach children to develop self-esteem from their personal attributes not by what their peers think of them.
  • Model appropriate behavior. Children internalize feelings based on what they sense from their parents.
  • Do something special with your children so they know they are loved and appreciated but also to develop positive associations and memories for what should be a positive holiday.

Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is West Michigan’s largest children’s hospital, serving children and families throughout a 37-county region. A teaching hospital, it includes more than 150 pediatric specialty physicians uniquely skilled in providing medical and surgical care to children in more than 40 pediatric specialties. The hospital cares for more than 7,500 inpatients and 150,000 outpatients annually. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is committed to caring for children and families with compassion, excellence and innovation.