It’s the holiday season: the lights are up, the stores are decorated, and Santa Claus has opened the local North Pole Branch Office at a mall or store. It’s time to dress up the kids and go for that all important, keepsake photograph of your little one sitting on Santa’s lap. But what if you child flat-out refuses? “I’m not going near that guy!”
We’ve all seen the pictures and witnessed the scene: terrified kids being thrust into Santa’s lap, screaming and crying while mom or dad snaps the picture. Sometimes the adults are laughing at the child’s terror. Will this short episode scar your child for life? Probably not. However, parents need to think about the messages they are sending to their child.
As good parents, we should want these things for our children:
- We want our children to trust us
- We want our children to be in tune to their own feelings
- We want our children to feel safe
- We want our children to understand “stranger danger”
Forcing a terrified child to sit on Santa’s lap does not do much to teach children about these concepts. Let’s look at child development:
- Older infants and young toddlers are typically already in a stranger-anxiety stage
- Toddlers are often afraid of anyone wearing a costume because it challenges their view of how people should look. Santa has arms, legs, a head, and facial features like a person, but he is BIG, he has an exaggerated white beard, and strange clothing
- Toddlers don’t yet understand the concept of Santa as a kindly old man who brings toys
- Preschoolers may understand the concept of Santa, but may be cautious or slow-adapting by temperament
So what’s a parent to do? Avoid using “put downs” to convince your child to sit with Santa. Saying things like “There’s nothing to be scared of” or “Don’t be silly. The other kids aren’t scared.” doesn’t teach your child to trust his or her instincts and emotions, and it makes kids feel bad.
Avoid using threats—“If you don’t sit with Santa, he won’t bring you any toys” or “No ice cream for you unless you sit on Santa’s lap.” Statements like this usually aren’t true, and they put unnecessary pressure on kids. Prepare your child gradually. Read about Santa and observe him from a distance. Wave to him.
When you are ready for the picture, let your child take the lead. If he or she is not ready to get up close and personal with Santa, consider a picture standing NEXT to Santa, or a picture with you holding your child next to Santa. You might also try a venue without the pressure of waiting in line, only to have your child back out at the last minute. If there is a Breakfast with Santa event in your area, it can give your child a chance to do other fun activities while observing Santa from a distance.
One of my favorite pictures of my oldest grandson is when he was a 2-year-old with Santa. He is standing quite a distance from Santa, waving at him. Santa is in the background, waving back. And that was enough.