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The funny thing about raising kids is that the memories you
buried decades ago come crashing in the moment a familiar scene
unfolds. Year after year, I cringe and
resist the urge to comment when parents leave screaming babies, toddlers and
preschoolers on the laps of hired Santas for the sake of a photo op.
My heart nearly drops out of my chest each
time I witness such a scene because I remember that feeling of dread in the pit
of my stomach. My parents never forced
me to sit on Santa’s lap, but I remember one visit with Santa when I stood
three feet away, frozen in fear and glaring at him. He seemed big and imposing. Although I’m sure he was friendly and good
with kids, in my young mind I was sure that he was bad news.
Stranger danger alert in Santa’s workshop!
The other night I was flooded with emotions as I
watched a mom step back from a sobbing baby. His arms reached for her and his face was bright red with tears and
panic as his preschool age sister looked on with worry. For what seemed like an eternity, the mom
attempted to get a smile out of him. Pick him up! Pick him up! Please, pick him up. My silent requests went unanswered for a
solid minute, before she gave up on the picture and moved on.
I know what you’re thinking: The baby won’t remember any of that. You’re probably right. But you
know who will? That worried looking big
sister who never did make a request from Santa because she was too busy
watching her brother fall apart right in front of her eyes.
I know it seems like these holiday mishaps are no big deal,
but to the child sobbing on the lap of a stranger — or the older sibling looking
on in horror — these seemingly small moments can feel very big. When parents laugh throughout the whole
ordeal? Well, that only adds to the
confusion and frustration for the kids.
Still not convinced? Check out these four reasons to skip the bad Santa photos this year.
1. It’s traumatizing.
Fears of both strangers and adults dressed in costumes are
common among the toddler and preschool-age groups. It’s the same reason they don’t actually want
to meet Mickey Mouse when you finally get to Disneyland. It might seem like a good idea in the safety
of the home, but out in the world, that large man dressed in red with an
enormous beard can be downright scary.
Andrea Nair, M.A.,
CCC, psychotherapist and parenting expert, agrees. “The thing is that ‘Santa
Trauma’ is a real phenomenon,” says Nair. “Some children get so affected by their visit
to Santa that they get nightmares or develop aversions toward men with beards or
glasses. Some don’t want to read books about Santa or even go in a mall,”
cautions Nair. “Although we may giggle at their cute little upset faces, we
really should respect the big feelings that are terrifying them.”
2. Loss of trust
Our children trust and love us unconditionally, particularly
during those very early years. They look
to us to help them when they’re scared, frustrated or sad. They feel helpless in the face of big scary
emotions, and they run to us for comfort and security.
What feels like a quick, funny interaction to you might
actually break that trust and impact the bond you’ve worked so hard to
establish. So, I guess the important
question to ask yourself is whether you think it’s really worth it.
3. The worry cycle
Some kids are more prone to worrying than others. Some happily jump on the laps of any Santa
they see, while others run for cover. Some go bed with ease and transition without a care, while others seek a
long bedtime routine and need frequent warnings to cope with transitions.
Temperament is an important but often overlooked piece of
the puzzle, when it comes to parenting young children. What works for one child, and what worked for
you, won’t necessarily work for every child. And that little worrier? That
child needs a lot of extra care when it comes to these potentially worrisome
Forcing the Santa shot upon a little worrier will only
exacerbate the worry cycle. It’s scary
enough to confront a fear of strangers in costumes. But when your parent
ignores your emotions that just makes the future worries grow in size.
4. You can’t get it back.
I see the photos in my Facebook feed. They pop up on shows like Ellen DeGeneres and
Jimmy Kimmel. I know those pictures
might seem funny to many at the end of a long day, but I never laugh. I can’t help but think about the sobbing
child overwhelmed with emotion. What’s
worse than that actual moment of pure panic that can lead to a lifetime of mistrust? Parents looking for a cheap laugh on social
media or 15 seconds of fame on a TV show. It’s bad enough that kids go through this each year, but once you put it
out there for the public? You can’t ever
get it back.
Fast forward 15 years…how do you think your child will feel
when that image comes up in a Google search? Do you think she’ll laugh or do you think she’ll be completely
humiliated? I suppose that brings us
back to temperament.