George Lucas Educational Foundation
Bullying Prevention

3 Tips to Reframe Valentine's Day for Special Needs Students

February 2, 2016         Updated February 1, 2016

Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in schools across the nation. Although some schools have taken proactive steps to prevent bullying, favoritism and leaving people out on the day that should be celebrating love, there is still anxiety for the teachers  of many students with special needs. When your have a student who is on the autism spectrum or has ADD/ADHD, the making and receiving of Valentine’s cards and the attendance of school-sponsored functions and card-exchanging can be extremely difficult for parent, child and teacher alike. Here are a few tips to minimize your anxiety and to create a good day for all the students in your school or classroom.

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  1. Discuss Valentine’s Day with your administrator and parent allies. There is nothing worse for any student than not to receive Valentine’s cards. Make an all-or-none policy common in the classroom, especially in the home room classroom. Start with you — there are many printables on Pinterest and elsewhere online allowing you to cheaply create valentines for the entire class. Another great option is to put a cookie (allergen free, of course) in a baggie for each of the students in the classroom. Talk to your friends and allies and the parents with disabilities community and have them follow suit. If you can get your adminstrator to make this a school-wide suggestion…even better!
  2. Manage expectations and Mitigate Damages.  Sometimes the best way to quell the social anxiety caused by Valentine’s Day is to encourage all school staff, faculty and students to pay tribute to the exceptionalities of all throughout the week of Valentine’s Day. But if this comes from a note the teacher, a lovely email home, a decorated class photo or even just taking your students aside in a speaking and listening conference and expressing all the things you admire about them.  Encourage verbal valentines or affirmations so if someone is feeling left out the day of, you can shower them with verbal affirmations. Although there isn’t much solace in “Well, your teacher likes you,” looking beyond the day and cushioning the fall can be essential to social success in high anxiety situations.
  3. Be a classroom of kindness ambassadors. Don’t necessarily let society dictate how you celebrate this holiday. After many failed attempts and broken hearts on Valentine’s Day some teachers I know have decided to reclaim the holiday and empower each student to be a love ambassador during the week of Valentine’s Day and every weekend of February. How did they do that, you may ask? Each weekend of February, every student was in charge of a random act of kindness in the classroom.  Many classrooms have also chosen to highlight volunteerism instead. To date here are some great ideas I have seen: volunteering at pet shelters, lunch bags for the homeless, written letters and valentines to soldiers stationed abroad and had bake sales with proceeds going towards a plethora of causes.

Just because Valentine’s Day as it stands doesn’t always work for your clasroom doesn’t mean you can’t meaningfully and profoundly contribute to your community and really demonstrate the meaning of the holiday. Show your student with exceptionalities (and even without) that while traditional, mainstream valentines may not work for him or her, all your students can impart love in the community and around the world. This sense of esteem and self worth is much better (most of the time) than a Frozen Valentine and stale conversation hearts. (No offense to Elsa.) We must reevaluate Valentine’s Day in light of wide spectrum of exceptionalities and realize that if we step back, we can see the true meaning of Valentine’s Day. It is important to realize that love is at the basis and one of the tenants of love is acceptance. In this re-framing of Valentine’s Day, let’s learn to love differences and appreciate people not in spite of this difference but because of them. Remember as we approach this often-precarious school situation, as a teacher, your attitude and energy is often felt by your student. If you approach it with a sense of community and attitude of kindness and giving, so will your students. 

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

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