Valentines Made Easier: Ideas From an Occupational Therapist

By Keri Wilmot

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. Nowadays, it’s very common in schools for kids to send Valentine’s Day wishes by writing cards for their classmates. And to my son and many other kids, it’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 occupational therapist, 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.

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, there are other challenges. Imagine plopping your child in front of a pile of 20 or so 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 your child might not deal with cards exactly the way his classmates do. It also means being flexible with your child so that he can participate, but in a way that works for him (and you). Here are some ideas and shortcuts.

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 go. These days, you can find free cards online that you can print.

Buy or print more cards than you think you need. This way you’ll have extras if your child rips cards or writes his name wrong.

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 and scan the signature into a computer. 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. This way you don’t have to worry about giving someone the wrong card if your child has trouble reading names.

Do it in manageable chunks. The process of preparing cards might be too much for your child 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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