Why We Didn’t Make Him Sit on Santa’s Lap
It's the season of terrified children on the knees of a stranger disguised in a red suit and a bushy white beard. The mandatory photo with Santa Claus is so part of our holiday culture that we barely think twice about it, ignoring the cries of our infants and toddlers during the (albeit brief) moments […]

We don't make kids sit on Santa's lap

It's the season of terrified children on the knees of a stranger disguised in a red suit and a bushy white beard. The mandatory photo with Santa Claus is so part of our holiday culture that we barely think twice about it, ignoring the cries of our infants and toddlers during the (albeit brief) moments while the photo is taken. . The internet is teeming with photos of children sobbing in Santa's lap, many with outstretched arms, begging to be saved by their parents off camera.

Maybe I'm just a Scrooge. After all, a few moments of panic in the lap of a strange man in a red suit is unlikely to result in permanent trauma, right? But, for me, that's not the point. In another context, would we find it acceptable to hand our children over to a stranger, ignoring their obvious terror and ignoring their pleas for help? So why is it so easy for us to ignore our children's emotional distress when a picture with Santa Claus is in sight?

Related: I don't make my children believe in Santa Claus; here's why

For me, this tradition is just another way of ignoring the emotions of our children. We know they are in no real (physical) danger, so we see the fear apparent on their tear-streaked faces as unwarranted. We would not feel justified in ignoring the fear of another adult just because we did not perceive the same danger. Yet we do this to our own children, who trust us to keep them safe in this world, without ulterior motives. When we force a terrified child into Santa's lap, ignoring his calls for our help, we break that trust.

For me, this tradition is just another way of ignoring the emotions of our children. We know they are in no real (physical) danger, so we see the fear apparent on their tear-streaked faces as unwarranted. We would not feel justified in ignoring the fear of another adult just because we did not perceive the same danger. Yet we do this to our own children, who trust us to keep them safe in this world, without ulterior motives. When we force a terrified child into Santa's lap, ignoring his calls for our help, we break that trust.

In fact, this idea of ​​"breach of trust" is more of a problem than just the tradition of vacationing once a year. Experts have found that parents who force their children to give affection when they don't want to send the message that their child is not in control of their own body. Indeed, it can teach your child that when an adult wants to “give him a hug” or “touch him”, he must allow it even if it makes him uncomfortable. This doesn't just apply to photos of Santa Claus. This applies to any adult - a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, or even YOU - you should never force your child into affection or force them to give them affection if they don't want to. .

In the podcast, Here & Now, Dr. Jack Levine, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics Executive Committee, says what parents might think of as simple respect or love for an elder (or a long-standing holiday tradition) can actually have lasting impact on a child.

“They feel that outside forces are more or just as important as their own feelings and who they should embrace and hug, and then later in life, who they should be intimate with,” Levine says.

He goes on to say that parents should not give excuses as to why their child does not want to show affection at this time, as such labels as "shy", "sensitive" or "difficult" are often used. considered negative. A person's natural tendency is to change that label to something positive, so that a child can change their behavior, like showing affection even when they don't want to, just so that it doesn't. do not call this "negative label".

“Usually the label is viewed negatively. It comes down to the general idea of ​​individual differences, that some children may not be so outgoing. One of the challenges that caregivers and parents face is that their child's social abilities and temperament may be somewhat different from theirs. So, you can be a very outgoing person and still happy to see your loved ones, hug them and kiss them, and your child can be a little more inhibited and a little more careful, and you can interpret that as a negative thing, rather than just like the child being himself. We need to understand that this is not about labeling - it is about accepting children as they are and encouraging them to make good decisions.

Related: To Father Christmas or not to Father Christmas?

In fact, not forcing your child to affection someone or forcing them to sit on Santa's lap can have a positive impact on your relationship with your child. By validating their feelings and emotions, especially on the basis of an internal fight or an escape mode, it will help build trust between you and your child. By not forcing them to do something that makes them feel totally uncomfortable or scared to the point of crying, especially when it comes to physical contact, will let them know that you will protect them and honor their feelings.

To be clear, I don't think the parents who participate in this tradition, despite their children's tears, are bad parents. But I think we need to be careful when our cultural norms cause us to ignore our children's emotions, if only for the brief moments it takes to take a photo. We should ask ourselves if the photo with Santa is worth it, or if we just do it because, well, that's what we all do. It is not about judging other parents; it is about challenging cultural norms that encourage insensitivity to the needs of our children.

Needless to say, our family has given up on this tradition, choosing not to force our toddler, who at seventeen months old is just starting to learn Christmas, to sit on Santa's lap. But I'm not a total asshole bah. I want to introduce him to the magic of Christmas, including the man in the red suit who inexplicably travels the world in a sleigh pulled by a team of reindeer.

So we opted for a more informal and less tearful introduction to Old Saint Nick, attending a “Cookies with Santa” event at a local toy store. Santa was sitting non-threateningly on one side of a room filled with crafty activities and, most importantly, a cookie table. According to his nature, my son looked at Santa Claus in measure, occasionally looking at him from across the room as he decorated a paper photo frame and filled a round plastic ornament with ribbon and beads .

Naturally, our son took the rare opportunity to indulge himself and spent a lot of his time eating cookies. Santa is a perceptive guy, and he noticed my husband and I carefully explaining his presence, his red suit, his big white beard, to our son. So he slowly approached, a cookie in his outstretched hand. Safe beside his mother and father - and, no doubt, tempted by the cookie - our son accepted the offering. And then he was convinced to return the good deed, by giving a cookie to Santa Claus himself.

When the time for the obligatory photo came, our whole little family stepped into the camera frame. Despite making friends over cookies, our son didn't want to sit with Santa. So this year's photo includes all three of us - my husband to the left of the merry old man, and me holding our son in my arms to his right. Not a tear has been shed.

Many children, of course, will be overjoyed at the opportunity to snuggle up to Santa, commemorating their meeting with a picture to hang in the fridge. But for others, being pushed into a stranger's lap is just terrifying. So, please respect your child's feelings this holiday season when you consider the photo with Santa Claus. Building your child's confidence is far more important than any photo opportunity.

Image: Brastock / Shutterstock


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