Chances are your social media feed is filled with photos of little kids sitting on Santa’s lap these days. Some of them are super cute, with kids happily smiling and obviously enjoying their time with Santa; while others are crying/screaming and look truly horrified to be in the situation they’re in. One disturbing trend I have also noticed is parents posting these photos of their terrified children with Santa, and laughing about it. Others commenting how cute it is and making light of them being scared, as if it’s some rite of passage that all kids need to endure. I recently saw one relative’s picture with Santa where two little girls were screaming on Santa’s lap, one desperately trying to break free from his arms. The comment section had comments like “Love it!”….”So cute!”….”Priceless!”
Children who are scared, are truly scared. These seemingly “innocent” encounters can actually have lasting effects on certain kids.
A recent article was published by Katie Hurley LCSW, a child and adolescent psychotherapist and parenting educator in Los Angeles, Calif. that lists the potential consequences of forcing children to sit with Santa, and she encourages parents to be mindful of them during the holiday season.
1. It’s traumatizing. Your child may love characters in costume on TV, in the movies or in a book, but in real life these characters can be larger than life and quite intimidating. Some children can be so frightened by a forced visit with Santa it can trigger nightmares for weeks after the encounter, and even cause the child to develop a fear of men with beards and/or glasses.
2. It sends mixed messages about stranger danger. We teach our children from a young age about stranger danger, and then we sit them on a stranger’s lap and expect them to have a magical moment. It sends mixed if they aren’t prepared. Have a chat with them beforehand about what to expect when they visit Santa, and if they aren’t having it, consider focusing on other traditions. There are lots of other ways to make memories at Christmastime.
3. It triggers the worry cycle. Some children are natural worriers, and seemingly “fun” situations to one child, may be quite overwhelming to another. Only you know your child, and if they are naturally timid, shy, or have anxiety you might want to avoid high pressure situations like visiting Santa.
4. It breaks trust. You are your child’s world. They trust you will be there for them when they are upset or frightened. Leaving them crying or struggling on a stranger’s lap while you laugh and snap pictures can absolutely break that trust and leave them feeling very alone and confused. It’s not worth a cute picture with Santa.
5. It minimizes their feelings. Part of raising independent children is teaching them that they own their own emotions, and that thier feelings are valid. When we ignore their feelings or downplay their fears by saying sitting on Santa’s lap is “no big deal” we are teaching them that their feelings don’t matter.
6. It lacks empathy. We try to teach our children compassion by listening and caring for the needs of others, yet parents who force a crying child onto a stranger’s lap are teaching them the opposite. The bottom line is, no picture or tradition is worth your child being frightened.