As a grandparent raising one grandchild and staying involved with several others, one of my struggles is how to reduce the intense social pressure they feel to be “perfect” and “popular”, all while spending a lot of money on “the right stuff”.
Valentine’s Day is a good example. Our 13-year-old is petrified that the Origami box he spent hours making won’t be “good enough” on Valentine’s Day – and our second grader tried to skip breakfast this morning because if she loses weight (before her class Valentine’s Day party on Friday), she’s sure that she will get more cards from her classmates. When did the “most romantic day of the year” get to be so stressful?
Of course, it isn’t just kids who get stressed out by Valentine’s Day. Americans have a kind of love/hate relationship with the holiday that leads 43% of them to avoid celebrating it completely. But what do we do as parents or grandparents when we see our children stressing out over who gets the most Valentine’s Day cards at a school party?
Many schools — like the one my granddaughter attends — have a rule that kids must bring a card for every child in the class if they bring one for any child. Teachers send home lists with the name of every child in the class. But, of course, just because you bring “a” card for everyone doesn’t mean you have to bring the same card for everyone. Kids are free to bring a “special card” for anyone, or to add small presents to some cards, but not others. Pencils, fancy erasers, friendship bracelets and candy were popular additions to first grade cards last year. And, of course, since the little “gift exchanges” are supposed to be secret, everybody knows who got what, and who got the most gifts and fancier cards.
By junior high, there are no more “group card exchanges”. The kids are starting to pair off, or at least think about “liking” each other — and the holiday can become a nightmare for less popular kids. Although cards and gifts are supposed to be exchanged outside class, everyone knows who got something from several admirers — and who got nothing at all. The office is filled with deliveries of flowers and balloons even though they aren’t actually permitted in class. (That doesn’t stop some parents from letting their sons order them, however — or stop the recipients from dragging all their friends to the hall outside the attendance office to point out their gift waiting to be picked up after classes end.)
My friend Jan Ziff has created a wonderful series of children’s books and mobile device apps that bring to life stories that her mum, renowned British storyteller Ann Rachlin, told her when she was a child. The sixth app and fourth book in the series, Heckerty’s Valentine, is now available — and it just may be the solution to de-stressing Valentine’s Day for younger kids like my granddaughter.
Heckerty’s Valentine is available as a free app for Android phones and tablets (including the Kindle Fire), and iPhones and iPads, or as an eBook or paperback book. If you’re a parent or grandparent who wants to help your child avoid the social pressure and discomfort so many of us have with Valentine’s Day, download the app now or order the book online. The app is free, the eBook or paperback book costs only a few dollars, and Heckerty’s website has lots of free activities, coloring pages, and craft ideas for parents who want to expand the ways their children interact with the stories and characters.
Once you introduce your pre-reader or young reader to Heckerty, my bet is that you’ll be downloading the whole series. My grandkids love Heckerty, and so do the dozens of kids I’ve shared the apps and storybooks with as part of my volunteer work at a local children’s hospital. Yours will, too.
Heckerty is a green-faced, 409-year-old witch who is always just a little out of step with the other witches in her hometown. The newest story about Heckerty and her cat Zanzibar not only helps kids learn to read, it teaches an important, understated lesson about kindness, friendship, and being yourself no matter what.
The message behind the newest story is simple: there’s no need to stress about Valentine’s Day – not if you share a gift of friendship with someone special, even if that someone is your cat. One of the things that educators and parents like most about the apps is that the animations are purposefully designed to be simple, so they don’t over stimulate young readers. Children on the autism spectrum, and those with learning differences, as well as children learning English as a second language, are among the biggest fans of the stories.
Each Heckerty story helps children (and adults) improve their English reading and vocabulary through rich interactive animation and graphics that kids love – and as they play, children discover important life values. The apps now allow readers to choose between 15 languages (simplified or traditional Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish – Korean and Hindi are coming soon – as well as English), so they are a wonderful ESL tool.
If you enjoyed magically quirky British stories like Winnie the Pooh, Beatrix Potter and Alice in Wonderland when you were younger, you’ll love the way the talented actors, musicians, artists, and technical wizards have brought that kind of story into the 21st century with the Heckerty stories. And if you don’t enjoy the sweet way Heckerty and Zanzibar overcome their Valentine’s Day stress by doing something nice for each other, then your heart is the size of the Grinch’s — that is to say, too small.
When we finished with Heckerty’s Valentine this morning, my granddaughter stopped obsessing about her sudden “diet”, and asked for a second glass of orange juice. Then she asked to take the iPad with her on the drive to school, so she could read the story again. By the time we arrived, she was her usual giggly self — exactly what I was hoping for when I downloaded the app yesterday.