It’s easy to dismiss Valentine’s Day as just a “Hallmark holiday,” but for many children, February 14 is a special date with great significance. Though children with profound cognitive disabilities may not be aware of the holiday, children with more moderate challenges, especially those who attend school alongside typically developing peers, are at least somewhat tuned into to the Valentine’s Day festivities. As a teacher, therapist or parent, how can you make Valentine’s Day a happy time for your child, students or clients? Here are some tips to make the kids in your life feel loved.
1. Focus on friendship
Valentine’s Day is a great time to discuss love, friendship and kindness. Ask children to reflect on what it means to be a good friend and how we show love and kindness. Can they describe a time when they felt loved by a friend or family member?
2. Have a love-themed story-time
Read developmentally appropriate books about love and friendship and then discuss them with your child or students. Some good choices for younger children include: “Love Monster” by Rachel Bright, “Be a Friend” by Salina Yoon and “If You’ll be My Valentine,” by Cynthia Rylant.
3. Adapt holiday crafts projects
Help children with special needs make Valentine’s Day cards for family members. Students with physical disabilities can use adapted art supplies including Enabling Devices’ adapted battery operated scissors, swirl art or color bug to create a card for a loved one.
4. It’s not a popularity contest
If you’re a teacher, take precautions to ensure that every child in the class receives the same number of valentine cards. If you’re a parent and aren’t sure that your child’s teacher will be aware of this, make sure to bring it to his or her attention ahead of time.
5. Teach social skills
Valentine’s Day is a good time to teach social skills to children with developmental delays. Social stories about Valentine’s Day or simply about friendship can help children on the autism spectrum or those who have social skills deficits for other reasons, learn how to be a good friend.
6. Serve something for everyone
Be mindful of children’s special diets and make sure that everyone has a Valentine’s Day treat that accommodates their health needs.
7. Plan a dance for teens with special needs
Teens with special needs desire love and romance just like typically developing peers. Back in 2015, athlete Tim Tebow and his foundation founded Night to Shine, a worldwide Valentine’s Day prom for teens with mental and physical disabilities. As Steve Helling reported in People, “For one night, people with mental and physical disabilities would be celebrated. They would walk the red carpet while dressed in tuxes and gowns. There would be hair, makeup and shoe shine stations. And, of course, there would be dancing.”
Each year since 2015, the event has grown bigger. This year, the foundation will throw 375 proms in 50 states and 11 countries. Even if there isn’t a Night to Shine prom in your neck of the woods, many schools and centers create their own Valentine’s Day dances for teens with special needs. Some dances are even designed to be sensory-friendly with attention paid to lighting and music volume. Dances offer teens with disabilities an opportunity to practice social skills, have fun, and maybe even find their valentines!