To some degree, Valentine’s Day starts and ends in your child’s classroom: the Star Wars cards, candy hearts and pink-and-red crafts only last one day. But the inclusivity, affection and love shown in the classroom starts with what we can exemplify at home. It also helps other kids at school when that love manifests into your children’s treatment of their peers. If you’re looking for new ways to demonstrate caring behavior at home, here are five ideas for your family this Valentine’s day that not only exhibit love, but have lasting benefits for your child’s overall wellbeing.
1. Take time to play
After the hustle of work and school, sometimes it’s hard to bring the family together at home. While it’s tempting to unwind with a smartphone, mindless scrolling might not be what’s best for your children. Muhammad Khalid Zafar, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Texas Tech Physicians’ department of psychiatry, encourages discipline when it comes to smart phone and internet usage. “...Early research is indicating they not only affect sleep, they affect mood, behavior and lead to difficulties with attention and concentration,” Zafar says. While there’s still plenty to study about smartphone usage, some specialists have speculated a link between smartphone/internet use and depression, which—according to studies in the journal Psychological Medicine—has been on the rise among young people over the past decade.
Deliberate distancing from smartphones provides opportunities to engage in fun activities at home. Family activities inspire communication and strengthen your child’s self-worth, confidence and feeling of inclusion. During winter months it’s harder to get outside and play, but blanket-forts or game nights can remind them to take out their headphones and have some phone-free fun.
2. Eat as a family
Along with pulling away from our phones for special activities, wireless parts of the evening should become a daily routine. Evening meals where children are able to communicate with their parents and talk about their days can instill a sense of belonging, purpose and self-worth, improving confidence and social skills.
Family dinners are not only the perfect way to connect by disconnecting from our devices—they also encourage a nutritionally healthier lifestyle. Families who eat together are statistically more likely to consume more fruits and veggies and less junk food. So not only are you showing love to your family every day, but you are helping create balanced, nourishing habits for their future.
3. Express interest in their interests
Hobbies help develop your child’s individuality. Often, hobbies provide both a fun environment and a new skill set.
Engaging in conversations about their interests can encourage continued pursuit and help them discover passions for their future. Asking about their interests expresses love both through giving them a sense of importance and through validation of the continual practice of their new pastime, energizing and motivating them to improve. As they learn, your kids will feel a sense of achievement and find out more about themselves. Additionally, working at our hobbies gives us practice at overcoming adversity and learning from our failures, both of which are adulthood truths that are better introduced sooner than later.
4. Set a good verbal example
Harnessing patience in communication, while not often easy, is the key to openness and empathy. Even within a disagreement, a vocabulary of compassion and understanding can make interactions with them easier in the long run.
It’s not just about how you speak to your children, but about how you speak to others, too. What your child hears inspires them to treat people with kindness and communicate respectfully, whereas using verbiage that is less respectful and more hostile can negatively affect the way kids treat their peers.
Sarah Mallard Wakefield, M.D., chair for Psychiatry with Texas Tech Physicians, recently wrote about coping for students, reminding us that kids imitate behaviors that are shown to them. “Children act out what is modeled for them or what is done to them. Bullying behaviors are more common in children who have witnessed these behaviors in role models,” Dr. Wakefield writes. Displaying a calm demeanor and using sincere, polite words can change the way children perceive communication, shaping their own reactions into more mature and thoughtful ones.
5. Encourage new relationships within the community
Young people are a big part of how local communities flourish and grow. But it’s not just about what you can do for the community—these new relationships introduce and reinforce lasting positive characteristics in your child.
Becoming part of a group helps your child feel a sense of inclusion and provides a place for them to communicate with others, build confidence and potentially learn something new. Community-based teamwork can model leadership and generosity, introduce new friends, and foster compassionate hearts.
Finally, tell your children you love them! While this seems obvious to you (I mean, just look at the immeasurable time and energy you dedicate to them), it is beneficial to your child’s emotional wellbeing when you remind them. Knowing that they have a support system provides strength to your kid’s mental health at every age, so fill their days with love—not just on February 14, but every day of the year.v