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Valentine’s Day is for Families, Too

Dear Parents,
Valentine’s Day is traditionally a fun-loving favorite for children. Red will rule the day as they head off to school Friday with specially chosen valentines, heart-shaped cookies for the class party and perhaps secret thoughts of a special someone they’ve had their eye on.
This celebration can extend into a weekend celebration for families. Jump at the chance to pause and put some fun into your ordinarily crammed schedule. Take time on this Valentine’s Day weekend to share special love in your family.
In his insightful book, “The Five Love Languages of Children,” author Gary Chapman describes the variety of ways children experience the giving and receiving of love.
The author suggests that every child is born with an “emotional tank” inside of them, just waiting to be filled. As parents nurture their children with love and affection, they fill each child’s tank, providing the emotional fuel that gives them the stability needed for normal growth.
Many times, “the misbehavior of children is motivated by the cravings of an empty love tank,” says Chapman. “We must learn to speak the primary love language of our children if we are to meet their emotional need for love.”
As a practicing psychologist, he reports treating many children who have emotional deficits and are unstable because they have not felt truly or deeply loved by their parents. He works with many adults as well, who continue to suffer emotionally because they never experienced the parental acceptance and unconditional love they desperately needed as children.
For some children, their primary love language is words of affirmation from parents, filling them with love and encouraging feelings of self-worth. Sometimes these words can come in the form of notes written by a parent, which are often saved for years by the child, who has been deeply touched by them.
For other children, the second love language — quality time — speaks most loudly to them. With occasional undivided attention, a parent communicates interest, caring and enjoyment of their child. A parent’s gift of time spent with their child tells a child he is greatly valued.
Many parents rely solely on gift giving as a means of expressing love. Although this is one of the five love languages, for some children this does not totally satisfy their emotional needs. When giving gifts, it is not necessarily the quantity or cost but the thought a parent puts into the gift that makes the most impact on a child.
The fourth love language is acts of service. Although many children take for granted the many tasks parents perform for them on a daily basis, some children are especially appreciative. If your child spontaneously thanks you for helping with a book report, for repairing his bike or fixing a favorite meal, this is a clue that this is his primary love language and that you are most likely filling that emotional tank.
Physical touch, the last of the love languages, is a universal communicator to children of a parent’s love. Babies who are held and cuddled, feel loved long before they can understand or verbalize their need for love. It’s easy to love an adorable infant, but harder for some parents to continue to show love through physical affection to a difficult teenager or a misbehaving child. Most children, no matter what age or trying stage they’re in, crave physical closeness to their parents.
Be a valentine detective. Notice how your child chooses to express her love to others, or what she requests of you, or seems most appreciative of. This may give you a clue to her primary love language. Chapman encourages parents to remember to use the other four languages as well, as children will soak up all types of unconditional love coming their way.
No job is more important for a parent than to keep a child’s emotional love tank filled. Learn the unique love language of your child, and speak it often, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day. Give each of your children an extra warm, longer-than-usual hug today. Don’t we all need that?

1. On Valentine’s Day, tint the morning oatmeal pink and sprinkle red cinnamon hearts on top, or make heart-shaped pancakes. This weekend, head out for a family hike or bike ride together.
2. Tuck a love note inside your child’s shoe or put one on his pillow, telling him what you specifically love about him.
3. Make simple heart-shaped place mats for the family. Ask family members to write one thing they like about each person on their mat. Read aloud during dinner.
4. Have an all-red dinner. Some suggestions: heart-shaped pizza with pepperoni, red veggies (tomatoes, red peppers, radishes), apple slices, red Jell-O in a heart mold, pink lemonade or cranberry juice.
5. Use paper hearts to lead children on a treasure hunt from place to place in the house. Hide a small gift for each at the end of the hunt.
6. End Valentine’s Day with a family group hug.

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