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3 Great Reasons to Say No to Santa

From the day after Thanksgiving until we ring in the New Year, we are all about some Christmas cheer at our house. There's a ton of baking, wrapping, decorating, donating, (attempted) crafting, holiday-movie watching, "Jingle Bells" singing and gift exchanging. But what there isn't very much of is Santa.

Despite the guilt-trip from acquaintances that we're "being cruel" and "robbing (our) daughter of her childhood" (people feel super intense about Santa, OK?!), the more time we spend negotiating the holidays without Mr. Claus, the clearer it becomes this is the best choice for our family.

Here's why we said no to Santa:

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1. We don't want our daughter's behavior extrinsically tied to earning presents.

The idea of dangling a carrot isn't really the way we want to encourage our daughter to act kindly or thoughtfully.

This isn't an indictment if you've resorted to bribing your kid at some point (or a claim that we've never done so ourselves, because get real). But the idea of dangling a carrot in the form of a pile of gifts beneath the tree one morning in December as the motivation for appropriate behavior the other 364 days of the year isn't really the way we want to encourage our daughter to act kindly or thoughtfully.

For a 3-year-old, especially, I can't imagine that threat holding any weight in, say, September. But even if it's only days before Christmas, it doesn't make sense to use delayed consequences in response to misbehavior. James Lehman, MSW, writing for Empowering Parents, explains, "When you're giving a child a consequence, it's important to make it flow naturally from the child's choice or action." He notes that consequences are most effective when they're task-oriented, meaning they're "related to the offense and define a learning objective." There's almost no action I can think of for which a relevant, sensible consequence would be to take away Christmas gifts.

As our preschooler learns to regulate her impulses and better communicate her feelings, her impetus for certain behavior shouldn't be that a mystical bestower of gifts is watching her every move. We'd rather help our daughter understand the value of acting with empathy and intentionality, as well as the importance of contributing positively to our communities and those around us—whether or not we're getting anything in return.

2. Not every parent can afford to bankroll Santa.

Our culture emphatically reinforces the idea that jolly ol' Saint Nick brings presents to every little girl and boy as long as they're "good." But when one kid receives a gorgeous new bike while her classmate unwraps a hand-me-down coat, or maybe unwraps nothing at all, that child's self-worth is going to be impacted. Feeling forgotten by an all-seeing Santa seems like it would definitely contribute to the devaluation and experience of invisibility that so often accompanies childhood poverty.

Omitting Santa from our own holiday doesn't change the fact that there will still be kids who wake up on Christmas morning only to discover their names must not have made it onto any North Pole lists this year, but we'd rather not participate in the part of this tradition that for many children could be a source of confusion or pain.

3. We don't want to tell an elaborate lie to our kid.

It's only a matter of time before our daughter discovers it was all a big trick.

Parenting and psychology experts have a hard time agreeing on whether or not playing along with the myth is an "innocent" lie that children come to accept without harm or a deeply upsetting parental betrayal with lasting consequences. Each can be true, but I'm not comfortable perpetuating a lie year after year, even one that temporarily provides whimsical excitement, knowing that it's only a matter of time before our daughter discovers it was all a big trick.

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Santa is ubiquitous and unavoidable, and his name is certainly not forbidden in our home. We talk about Mr. and Mrs. Claus, the elves and the fleet of flying reindeer the same way we discuss other stories: Santa is a character just like Doc McStuffins is a character, which has made him no less fun to our daughter.

And for those who cry Grinch, keep in mind that there are plenty of other ways to create magic during the holidays. Involve kids in a random acts of kindness project or make a tradition out of buying yearly angel tree gifts for others in need. Wake up the little ones just before midnight armed with mugs of hot chocolate and drive them through a quiet neighborhood on a tour of lights. Serve a weekend breakfast made entirely of Christmas cookies. Fill a stocking for the family pet. Send everyone on a treasure hunt through the house to find hidden ornaments for the tree. Hell, buy a snow machine and cover the entire front yard for a surprise white Christmas.

The point is, there are opportunities for laughter and wonder and happy magic throughout December—no Santa required.

Photograph by: Kirsten Clodfelter

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