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How to help your kids cope with Valentine’s Day anxiety

Most students come home from school on Valentine’s Day with a backpack stuffed with cards but there’s a good chance seven-year-old Quinn Sexsmith’s will be empty. Her Edmonton school discourages a student exchange.

“They do celebrations for Halloween and they do a Christmas party within the classroom but Valentine’s Day is just swept under the rug,” her mom Ashley explained.

7-year-old Quinn Sexsmith puts the final touches on her school valentine cards.

The Sexsmith family has decided to make cards for all Quinn’s classmates.

“I’d like to say I’m like a rebel mom. I send them in every year but we only get three or four back in return.”

“I think it’s an inexpensive holiday. They enjoy it and it teaches them about love and kindness,” Sexsmith said.

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Instead, Quinn’s school asks students to bring a toonie to donate to charity. This year, the students will make one big card and have all their classmates sign it. Edmonton Public Schools declined to say why the school discourages children from exchanging cards but Sexsmith guesses it’s about avoiding hurt feelings.

“I’m not sure if they thought that certain kids wouldn’t get a valentine from people and feel left out? I don’t know. There wasn’t really any particular reason for it,” Sexsmith said. “I am fine with sending in valentine cards and a toonie if they are looking for different ways for the kids to give back, that’s fine. I just don’t think it should be done instead of.”

Anxiety around Valentine’s Day is common for children and teenagers, says child psychologist Dr. Eleanor Mackey. She supports schools attempting to make the holiday as inclusive as possible and even suggests parents create a valentine for their child to ensure they are receiving at least one.

“As long as kids feel they are loved, that somebody really cares about them and that they are special, it is really wonderful,” Mackey said.

She offered some insight into what children be feeling and what parents can do about it.

Christine Meadows, Global News: How can parents spot anxiety around Valentine’s Day?

Dr. Eleanor Mackey, child psychologist: I think parents know their kids pretty well.  If you’re talking about Valentine’s Day and they seem to withdraw a little bit or get quiet or say they don’t want to talk about it or change the subject, if you see them avoiding it or even expressing concern about it, you might know that there is something up. For the kids who are just excited and expressing a lot of enthusiasm, they are probably fine. But for the ones who just don’t really want to talk about it or get more withdrawn or sad during this time, there might be something going on.

CM: I worry that if our children never feel rejection or what it feels like to be left out, they won’t know how to handle it as they get older. 

EM: For some kids, it might be a good learning experience. For other kids, who are really just generally anxious, it might be pretty painful. For your average kid, it’s the same thing as not winning every time.

For kids who are particularly anxious, it actually could be really painful.

Use it as a learning opportunity to talk about why sometimes people get cards or why they don’t or why it may not mean anything about how they are disliked or not included but that’s really okay. Taking that learning opportunity is valuable but also taking the time to acknowledge that it might be more painful than a parent might realize. Something that might not seem like a big deal to us might be a huge deal to them.”

CM: If you spot anxiety around Valentine’s Day, or any other school event, what can parents do?

EM: Make sure to talk to your kids beforehand. Ask if they are feeling anxious. Ask what their expectations are. And you can prepare them by saying: “If things don’t happen the way you expect; if that particular person doesn’t give you a card, how are you going to handle that?” Also, give them some tips for what they can do. Talk to a friend. Remind themselves that they have other friends and people who care about them. And make sure that you do something special as a family to celebrate Valentine’s Day and make them feel loved. Those are all things you can consider to buffer the anxiety of Valentine’s Day.

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