When you become a parent, Valentine’s Day often shifts from being a lovefest with your partner or a night out with your girlfriends to an evening at home with your kids. Instead of fretting over finding a babysitter so you can hold on to the romantic dinners out you had when you were child-free, you can use the holiday as an opportunity to teach your little ones about love and affection.
“I don’t want my children to equate Valentine’s Day only to having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I want them to create moments of love, whether it’s with their family, their friends or in a relationship,” says Simona Noce Wright, co-founder of District Motherhued, a community for millennial moms of color.
“The biggest thing for me is reminding families to normalize what healthy relationships and expressions of love look like,” says Angelica Clark Brown, a regional resilience coach at MedStar Health and a clinical social worker.
You can do this by modeling physical affection, quality time, random acts of kindness and effective communication, which older generations didn’t necessarily do, Brown says. “We wouldn’t have certain conversations or be overly affectionate, but I think that does children a disservice, because then they don’t know what healthy relationships look like.”
Instead of (or in addition to) scheduling a dinner date or buying chocolates and flowers for your significant other, consider showering your children with a dose of extra attention this Valentine’s Day. Here are ways you can rethink your celebration at home with your kids, whether they’re toddlers, school-aged children or young adults.
Wright is a “firm believer” in getting Valentine’s Day pajamas, similar to how some folks coordinate sleepwear during the winter holidays. “I feel like that sets the tone of love and tradition that we have for our family,” she says, adding that they’ll also occasionally dress up.
Share your love story
“Now that my boys are getting older, they’re asking a lot of questions about our wedding day,” says Wright, who has been married for four years. This year, she’ll sit them down after dinner to have an age-appropriate conversation about “the concept of love” while looking at photos from the couple’s nuptials.
If you have a small family, everyone can make cards for each member, suggests Susan Myrickwilcox, whose company, Yellow Bliss, mails curated boxes full of party items. If the group is larger, each person can be assigned someone.
Preschoolers can trace Valentine’s Day cards, while older children and adults can write, draw or paste photos from magazines on blank cards. After taking 20 minutes or so to create the cards, everyone can show or read their cards aloud. “Hopefully it’s about love or something special” about the person you chose, Myrickwilcox says.
Film a sentimental video
“We are in the tech world, so most children, even as young as 2 years old, are kind of used to video recordings,” Brown says. Smaller children can hold up signs, while older kids “can actually curate their own messages to their parents or your significant other,” Brown says. Parents of older children can speak their language by creating a photo collage or TikTok video, she adds.
Play themed games
In a simple game using plastic cups and individually wrapped candies, people can draw confections and use them to compliment others. The key is to choose candies that make for creative lines. “They’ll say a sentence that they made from the candy,” Myrickwilcox says. “For example, ‘You make me feel like a hot tamale,’ or, ‘I love your kisses,’ then they get to eat the chocolate Kiss.”
Parents can also hide treats around the house, similar to an Easter egg hunt, “and the kids will have fun collecting all of the different kinds of candy,” Myrickwilcox says. Depending on the type of candy you purchase, children can also string them together to make necklaces.
Have a movie night
Everyone can watch one love-themed movie, or adults and children can separate to watch different films.
Myrickwilcox recommends movies such as “Cinderella” and “The Princess and the Frog” for young children, “The Princess Diaries” and “Little Women” for teens, “Valentine’s Day” and “The Vow” for adults, and “Luca” and “Over the Moon” for the entire family.
Either way, don’t forget the popcorn, Valentine’s Day candy and other snacks.
Create an at-home restaurant
If you can’t dine out, create an eatery at home. Having the kids involved will teach them how to throw a party, and “you’re teaching etiquette and organizing skills, too,” says Myrickwilcox, who suggests printing out or writing your menu and displaying it in a frame.
Children can help create the tablescape and “present the menu or drink of the day” to the adults, Wright says. Families can also keep it simple with a heart-shaped pizza, either delivered or made from a kit from the grocery store. “It incorporates an activity of everyone coming together, putting the pizza in and waiting for it to be ready,” Wright says.
Wright gives her children juice boxes at dinnertime while she and her husband pull out champagne flutes from their wedding day. “The kids don’t notice, and it’s an intimate way for us to recognize the love we have between us.”
Focus on desserts
Myrickwilcox suggests ordering cupcakes from your favorite bakery, but ask for the frosting on the side, so your kids can decorate the cupcakes at home. (Add to the fun by purchasing sprinkles and festive candies for toppings.)
Another option is assembling an ice cream sundae bar with toppings such as hot fudge, whipped cream, nuts and cherries. (Purchase sundae cups or sponge cake dessert shells from the grocery store, Myrickwilcox suggests.) And be sure to have a nondairy ice cream option for your lactose-intolerant guests.
Spread the love
In lieu of one elaborate celebration, Brown suggests planning a “five-days-of-love countdown” centered around Gary Chapman’s five love languages. She says these “smaller, more intimate” activities could include an at-home spa experience to represent physical touch, a scavenger hunt with notes for words of affirmation, meal preparation for an act of service and a day (or a few hours) without electronics for quality time. On the last day, Valentine’s Day, have a gift exchange.
“It’s really about meaningful and personalized gifts, not necessarily extravagant,” says Brown, adding that Pinterest is “every parent’s best friend at some point. … There’s probably someone out there who has a gift idea for you.”
Christina Sturdivant Sani is a freelance writer in Northern Virginia.