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‘Tis the season to be jolly, but… maybe not so much when it comes time to your child meeting Santa. You might have been excited this holiday season to get that cute picture of your kid(s) sitting on Santa’s lap telling him what they want for Christmas, but this may not go as planned. Many kids are afraid of Santa. As soon as it’s their turn in line to meet jolly old Saint Nick, they freak out. Well, if you’re wanting some smiles in that photo with Santa and not a meltdown, here are some key tips on preparing your little ones for a smooth, calm and successful visit with Santa Claus…
1. Introduce Your Child to Santa Claus
Get your child excited about Santa at the beginning of the holiday season so that he already feels like he knows him. Tell stories about the jolly man who brings presents to girls and boys around the world or share memories of what Santa meant to you as a kid.
Visuals are always helpful so watch age-appropriate movies that portray Santa in a positive light, such as the original Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, The Santa Clause, or Miracle on 34th Street. Read books such as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas or The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear. And, of course, it can’t hurt to suggest that your child write a “wish list” that you can send off to the North Pole.
Remember though, from your child’s perspective, those “safe,” non-threatening representations of Santa, are polar opposites from standing face-to-face with a 6 foot tall, 300 pound, bell jingling, ho-ho-hoing, white hair covered “stranger”. That can be scary for your little one.
2. Avoid Weekends!
If you can arrange to take your child at a time when there are shorter lines, less crowds and a shorter wait time, your child will have a better experience. Waiting even 10 minutes, being dragged through the maze of velvet ropes, is tough for kids.
3. Consider Your Child’s Schedule
Select a time for your visit when your child is at their brightest, best mood. You won’t want to go during a naptime or close to bedtime. There are parents out there who wonder why their 3-year-old is pitching a fit about going up to see Santa at 9:30 at night. If you can arrange your schedule for a well-timed morning visit, you’ll have better results.
4. Sugar High
Try to avoid sweets, ice cream, sugary cookies, candy and sodas in the couple hours before your visit with Santa. We all see how sugar effects our children’s moods. An apple, crackers or string cheese, as a snack will help you have a better visit! And hungry kids are likelier to act out.
5. What NOT to Say
Be careful not to paint a scary picture of Saint Nick ahead of time. If you prep your child by saying “Don’t be afraid, Santa’s not going to hurt you,” you’ve introduced a possibility that may never have occurred to him. Instead, talk about how fun it will be, and show your child a picture of a sibling or a cousin perched happily on Santa’s lap.
Here are some words and phrases that you should try to avoid saying: “Now, don’t CRY.” “Don’t be AFRAID.” “Santa is not SCARY!”…
I suggest you do a lot of giggling, laughing, and smiling. DO say: “This is SO MUCH FUN!” “I like Santa!” “Santa is so nice.” “Look at all the pretty lights!” If you are going to “program” your child, do it with positive concepts that set the tone for the impending visit.
6. Go at a Slow Pace/ Your Child’s Pace
Allow your child to get warmed up to this situation on their terms. This may mean a couple pre-visits (watching Santa from afar) before your child willingly gets up onto Santa’s lap. That’s fine! Your goal is slow and steady with no trauma. However long it takes your child to get seated is not a reflection on you being a good/bad parent. Every child is different. Every Santa is different. Bells, lights, Christmas music and this huge, red-suited, hairy guy are holiday traditions that we all were taught by our families. It’s very unfamiliar territory to your little one though so enjoy the process!
Also, children’s perception of time is very different from ours so walk away, do some window shopping and return 20 minutes later… To a child, it’s now a whole new day! Try again. Perhaps your child will get close enough for a “high 5” or a fist bump this time rather than just watching from afar. Keep working at it! Get a little closer each time.
7. Be Santa’s Helper
Talk to Santa one-on-one to help your child grow more accustomed to him. Have your spouse, a family member, or a trusted friend distract your child for a moment while you have a little chat with Santa. Explain your child’s fears and offer suggestions on how he can reassure your child. Tell him the name of your family pet or your child’s favorite toy or activity so that he can bring it up in conversation. He can say something like, “Your mom told me you’ve been doing so well in soccer this year” or “Mommy said you have a dog named Barkley. Tell me about him.”
8. Parents & Siblings
If you have older children, allow your little ones to watch their older siblings as they visit with Santa. Let your child assimilate the concept that “visiting with Santa is fun” on their own. If you do not have older children, when you get to the front of the line, ask if your child can watch a few other children as they visit Santa before you and your child take your turn.
9. Be a Good Example
Let your child watch as YOU go up and greet and hug Santa. Sit next to Santa for a moment so your child understands you are signaling this is a “safe” situation. Call your child onto your lap. Place your child on the far knee, away from Santa, using you as a safety buffer between your child and Santa. Perhaps getting the candy cane treat is the next great achievement. Take the candy and say your goodbyes. Success at this stage may be having a shorter, happy experience. That’s fine! Next time the child may even go up alone as long as they see a parent’s reassuring face is closeby. By age 4, most children will go willingly to Santa as they understand the request & receive concept by then.
10. Do’s and Don’ts
As a quick recap and some extra pointers, here are my recommendations to help your child ease into the Santa visit and make it a good experience for all:
- DO read books with pictures of Santa to your child days before your visit. It gets them used to seeing jolly old Saint Nick.
- DON’T have picture day with Santa at the mall on the weekends. Crowds, chaos, and Christmas don’t mix well.
- DO take them a few days earlier to see the layout of Santa’s house and to show them other kids interacting with Santa.
- DON’T be uptight and stressed. A child can sense what you’re feeling, and will react the same way.
- DO dress them in comfortable clothing. The fancy dress and bow tie may look cute, but may not be so comfortable adding to the stress of your child.
- DO talk to them when you’re in line. Talk about how much fun you’re having and maybe glance over the book you shared earlier.
- DO distract your child if you hear another child with Santa crying. Start singing a Christmas carol and have them join in.
- DON’T let someone else grab your child to put him/her on Santa’s lap. The grabbing scares a child, and when it’s a stranger doing it — it impacts the fear.
- DON’T force a child to sit on Santa’s lap, if they don’t want too. It sends the wrong message and could make your child fear Santa in the future.
- DON’T yell or get angry with your child, because they’re upset. That confuses them, because they know you as their protector.
- DO comfort your child if they’re upset, and tell them “it’s ok.” Leave the area right away, but don’t panic.
- REMEMBER there’s always next year. 🙂
All in all, don’t expect perfection. Parents tend to have high expectations at this time of year for how everything should go. Don’t be disappointed if the photo doesn’t work out the way you had hoped. What now seems like a missed opportunity for a “perfect” picture with Santa may become a special photo in future years because it captured that visit to Santa.