Valentines made easier: Ideas from an occupational therapist

As a mom, I love celebrating Valentine’s Day with my son. With a red marker, I can scribble “I Love You” on a piece of paper, add a few heart-shape stickers, and voilà — a valentine. The smile on his face is priceless.

The enthusiasm isn’t quite the same when it’s his turn to make one. It’s common in schools for kids to send Valentine’s Day wishes by writing cards for each classmate. And for my son and many other kids, that’s a chore.

Some kids are excited about drawing, cutting, and designing dozens of cards for their friends. But for others, especially those with certain learning and thinking differences, making Valentine’s Day cards can be pure torture.

As an , I’ve worked with many of these kids. Difficulty with writing is a big part of their frustration. But there are other pain points, too.

Buying cards instead of making them can bring other challenges. First, you have to choose the cards. This can be hard for kids who struggle with making choices. Put them in a crowded store and the situation is ripe for tantrums or meltdowns.

Once you have the cards, imagine plopping your child in front of a pile of 20 or 30 empty envelopes and cards. For some kids, that might feel just like having to work on a dreaded book report. That’s especially true for kids who have trouble getting started on tasks or following multi-step directions.

And of course there are the writing issues. It’s difficult enough for kids who struggle with writing or fine motor skills to write their name in the correct sequence once. Asking them to do it over and over again, neatly, in a tiny space — well, that’s not realistic.

So what can you do if your child struggles with Valentine’s Day cards? My recommendation is to make Valentine’s Day about what it’s supposed to be about: sharing a simple, caring message with friends and loved ones.

This means accepting that some kids might not deal with cards exactly the way their classmates do. It also means being flexible, so your child can participate in a way that’s a good fit.

Here are some ideas and shortcuts if your child is going to be exchanging cards this year.

Plan store visits carefully. Try to go during an off time when the aisles will be quiet. Limit how much time your child has to make a choice — 10 minutes, for instance. Let your child know when there’s three minutes left to make the decision. And if you don’t want to go to a store at all, don’t. You can buy cards online, or, even better, find free cards that you can print.

Buy or print more cards than you think you need. This way you’ll have extras if your child rips any cards or wants to do the signature over again.

Turn your child’s signature into a sticker. Signing valentines is great writing practice, but not every activity needs to be a learning activity. Kids don’t have to write their name on each card. Have your child write it a few times with a black marker. You can scan the signature into a computer and then print it on a sheet of labels to stick onto the cards. (You can search how to do this online if you’re not sure.)

Don’t worry that the message isn’t personal. And don’t be surprised if other parents call you a genius!

Don’t address envelopes. Again, each card doesn’t have to have a personal message. It’s OK to leave the envelopes blank. Then your child can pick a card from the stack and give it to anyone. Kids who have trouble reading names won’t have to worry about giving someone the wrong card.

Do it in manageable chunks. The process of preparing cards might be too much for some kids to complete all at once. Set aside a few nights before Valentine’s Day to work on cards. Have your child do five or so cards a night.

What if your child wants to send a valentine without writing? That’s OK too. Take a look at these creative alternatives to card writing like using a photo, a video, or even baked goods.


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