I love the holidays. I love the traditions I grew up with – that I continue with my own family – like cutting down our own tree each year. I love the new traditions we have started, like taking my birthday off at the end of November to put up Christmas lights and decorate. Being able to share these traditions our young children (2 yo and 4 yo), makes this time of year seem even more magical. While all families have their own magical moments that are important to them, I thought of one I’d like to share that has shifted for me over the years – Santa. Not every family believes or celebrates this tradition, but for those that do I wanted to take a few minutes to share some thoughts about some of the Santa-related issues I’ve been asked my perspective on by others
Scared of Santa
One of our children’s favorite traditions is to visit Santa, multiple times! Since the photos are free, and it’s nearby, we usually go several times in December. While the screaming baby on Santa’s lap may bring a few laughs, consider what that experience is like for the child. When an adult places a child on a stranger’s lap and leaves them there when they are clearly upset what message is that sending? Did you know that the brain wires for trust and mistrust during the first years of life? We want our children to be able to trust that we will keep them safe, be responsive to their needs, and honor their feelings. Is this really a big deal? Well, when children have their needs met (like, being comforted after a scary situation) routinely, it ensures the wiring in the brain will be laid down for trust. Dr. Pam Schiller says it best, “One way or another, the brain is going about its work of wiring.”
“But you do not understand, it’s a tradition to get that photo.” I hear you. Here are some other ways to still get that photo, without reinforcing a negative experience.
- Let your child sit on a bench next to Santa (very common now), or stand next to Santa at a comfortable distance.
- Join in – rather than handing off your child to Santa, hop in the picture too, keeping your little one safely in your arms.
- Visit multiple times – The place we go offers a basic photo for no cost. If we go after school, there is never a line. If needed, we could probably spend a few minutes to get the kiddos a bit more comfortable.
- Try to keep calm– the more stressed or frustrated you get, the less comfortable your children are going to be.
- Ask your child what they prefer, “Would you like to sit or stand next to Santa? Do you want me to go with you?” Even children that are not yet verbal are able to make choices like this.
- Prepare your child for the experience in advance. Show them pictures or videos and talk to them about what will happen. When you arrive, continue to narrate the experience for them.
Presents from Santa
Ever wonder why Santa brought you underwear, but he brought your neighbor a Nintendo? Research has shown that children as young as four years old notice differences in social class (Heberle & Carter, 2020). So children that are still young enough to believe in Santa may very well be able to notice the differences between the cost and quantity of presents ‘Santa’ has brought their friends. A great suggestion is that ‘Santa’ only brings one (not expensive) present and maybe fills the stockings. Help your fellow families who might not be able to splurge over the holidays and give yourself the credit for that awesome present.
Santa is watching
We have been struggling with this one in my house lately. My husband has been doing a lot of the Santa threats, and I’ve been joining in. It might sound something like this: “Santa isn’t going to bring you presents if you don’t do xyz”, “Santa only brings presents for good kids”, “I’m going to tell Santa not to bring you a present this year”. I even started singing ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town” the other day….yuck! What was I thinking?! I love Christmas…why on earth would I want to turn Santa into someone that can’t look past a bad day, or cancel Christmas?!
While these threats might produce a quick result, the Santa threats don’t work for long, and are often empty threats. They can also leave children feeling scared, sad, or confused. Are you really not going to give your children the present you bought them? And even if you did, young children are not old enough to connect a behavior they did a day, a week or even a month before Christmas to not getting a present Christmas morning.
Is it not ok to cry, or be upset, or feel frustrated during the holiday season? Remember that negative behaviors are way children communicate a need and how they show us they are struggling with something. Also keep in mind, as an adult, you probably feel sad, frustrated, mad, scared, and a range of other emotions that we often view as ‘bad’ when children feel this way. You’ve had a bit more time to learn how to appropriately cope with those emotions (or sadly…how to punch them back down and put on a happy face, which is certainly not what we want to teach our children).
Check out our other blog for some great tips on handling your kiddos Temper-tantrums and try to use Time-In J https://learningchildblog.com/2020/05/01/temper-tantrums-and-time-in/
Is Santa even real?
There are lots of opinions for families and even from the experts regarding the idea of Santa. Some of us just love the magic of Christmas, and Santa is a big part of that. I’ve got some friends that go all-out moving that darn little elf Every. Single. Day. However, some families are very much against the idea of Santa. Families feel that they are lying to their children if they include Santa in their holiday traditions.
The key here is to really do what feels right for your family. Yes, some adults look back on their childhood and may have felt lied to or deceived by their parents about Santa. Others look back and have amazing memories of the magic. I’ll never forget being amazed the year I got a wooden desk with my name on it. Santa was truly magical if he could get in my house without a chimney, bring this huge thing along with him and he really did know my name!
We have no way of knowing if, or how, our children will remember these early years. We cannot stress out over trying to create ‘perfect memories’ of our children, or ourselves. Each family needs to focus on what is meaningful for us, and be mindful of what our intentions are for the various activities we do – or do not – decide to participate in.
At the end of the day, or the end of the holiday season, the thing our children are going to remember the most is the love of their family and time spent together.
Here are some ideas you and your family might enjoy doing together.
Sesame Street: Kids Talk About Holidays
Sesame Street: The Power of We Holiday Party
I wish you and yours a wonderful holiday season!
KATIE KRAUSE EXTENSION EDUCATOR | THE LEARNING CHILD
Peer Reviewed by Kara Kohel, Linda Reddish, and Lynn DeVries, Early Childhood Extension Educators
Resource: Heberle, A. E., & Carter, A. S. (2020). Young children’s stereotype endorsement about people in poverty: Age and economic status effects. Children and Youth Services Review, 108, 104605.
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