By Staff Writer

Most parents associate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers — and extreme difficulty finding a babysitter. As for me, I associate Valentine’s Day with lopsided heart place mats and funny, heartfelt notes. Around here, Valentine’s Day is a family day – or as I like to tell my little ones: it’s the day you tell your sweeties how wonderful you think they are.

You may be cringing at the kids encroaching on yet another romantic tradition. But think about it — Valentine’s Day really is the perfect day to celebrate with your children. They will be surrounded by love. They will have the opportunity to share their love with others. And they will see you expressing your love, a good action lesson if there ever was one.

DO UNTO OTHERS

The first challenge in a Family Valentine’s Day is taking a holiday that is typically focused on two people and expanding it to encompass everyone. You don’t need a lot of money or even time to show your family how much you love them. Here are some ideas straight from the heart:

-Make heart-shaped notes telling your children what you love about them. Lay the hearts at their places on the kitchen table so they will be greeted by something special first thing in the morning.

-Tuck a special treat in their lunch boxes. (Briefcases and purses are good spots for surprises, too!)

-Write “Happy Valentine’s Day” or “I love you” in lipstick on the bathroom mirror.

MAKE IT A SPECIAL OCCASION

Do something special for dinner and let the kids take part in the planning and effort. A Valentine’s Dinner is a great way to come together as a family, and there are plenty of fun jobs for all ages and abilities. First take some time to create a Valentine’s Day atmosphere:

-Have the kids make special heart-shaped placemats. Or, if you’ve got school-age children and a bit of extra time, you can use all those little valentines they received at school for a fun craft that will decorate your table: Glue valentine cards onto construction paper, cover with clear contact paper and create collage placemats.

-Buy Valentine-themed paper plates and napkins for a festive table (easy cleanup, too). Or get out the fancy dishes, and while you’re at it, serve milk, water or sparkling grape juice in wine glasses to add a fancy touch.

-Eating by candlelight is a sure way to turn any meal extra special.

-Dress for dinner. That might mean putting on the Ritz with your fanciest clothes. But it could also mean having everyone wear red to the table. Or put those kids to work earlier in the day creating Valentine necklaces to add some fun to your attire. (To make necklaces: cut out some paper hearts, punch a hole in each and string them on some yarn.)


Now plan a meal that everyone enjoys and get those kids in the kitchen to help cook and set the table. If your kids are older, they might be able to do some of the cooking themselves. Younger kids can write up and decorate menus, and children of all ages like to pretend to be waiters. Let them take your order, serve the meal, and even clear away the dishes.

And finally, don’t forget dessert! Valentine’s Day is definitely a day that calls for a little extra sweetness, and this is an area where the kids can really shine. See the sidebar for a simple, kid-friendly dessert, or let them dip pretzel rods in melted chocolate and roll them in red or pink sprinkles for a festive treat.

Creating family traditions is an excellent way to build memories for your children, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. This Valentine’s Day, I encourage all families to express your love for each other in fun, creative ways. Make everyone in the family your Valentine.

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