It's not always love at first sight when it comes to little ones meeting Santa Claus. Despite the tears, many parents wait in line and pay for a snapshot of their kiddo and Mr. Claus, whether they are crying or not. But if your kid is the child who bursts into scared sobs when they visit Santa at the mall, it might not be best idea to try and force the situation. Or so says parenting expert Dr. Jason Coulson, who's now urging parents to rethink making their kids sit on Santa's lap—especially if they are hesitant or upset—because it might change how they understand consent.
Coulson warns that if sitting on a stranger's lap is going to upset your kid, it's probably best not to force the child—even if it's for a special moment with Santa.
Sure, we all want to get the perfect picture to send to Grandma and Grandpa of our kids with Santa, but if it's not in the cards, the doctor argues there's no reason to push it.
Coulson, who has a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Wollongong in Australia, and is a parenting expert and author, told The Daily Mail, "If a child is distressed or non-consenting, then it's disrespectful and it can even be bullying to force a child to sit on a stranger's lap for a photograph." Even if that stranger is dressed like the kid-friendly Santa Claus.
“Parents have got to stop bullying their children," he told Mamamia in a separate interview. "It’s using their power to force their child into an uncomfortable situation that just makes them feel awful."
I don’t know where we get the idea from that seeing our kids suffer and experience fear and anxiety is funny.
Although many chuckle when they see photos of a child's displeased reaction to Santa, Coulson argues that this is no laughing matter.
He explained that it shouldn't be hard for parents to immediately recognize how messed up the whole situation is, and he scolds them for putting their kids in that position. "I don’t know where we get the idea from that seeing our kids suffer and experience fear and anxiety is funny," he explained. "Any thinking, empathic parent is going to recognize that this is a stressful situation for some children and there is absolutely no benefit to it.”
Because when it comes down to it, Coulson argues that children need to understand consent—and there shouldn't be an exception for the holidays.
Coulson even said that he often sees worrying patterns between parents who don't take their kid's discomfort seriously during holidays or other times in their life.
"Parents who force their kids to do this, even if [their children] don't want to, may not stop at Santa photos," he explained. "So they could actually be setting up a dangerous pattern that's been shown at Christmas with the Santa photos but actually happens all the time." Although, the psychologist does admit that if this is a one-off instance of a parent pushing their kids, it most likely won't do any long-lasting harm.
The problem comes when pushy parents see their yearly photo with Santa as another time to push kids too far outside of their comfort zone.
"Parents who consistently disregard their children's fears, anxieties and feelings rob their children of agency," he said. "They increase the likelihood that their child will feel as if he or she doesn't matter or belong, and they run the risk that this type of consistent behavior will lead to genuine long-term psychological challenges."
One of those challenges is your child's understanding of consent.
“We make a really big deal about teaching our children about body boundaries, about body safety and about consent. And all of a sudden, we make this bizarre exception for a stranger in a red suit in a shopping center," he reasoned.
If parents want to get their perfect Santa photo, there's still a way to keep kids feeling safe. Coulson told Mamamia that if parents want to try to make everyone happy, “Get Mom and Dad, or Mom and Mom, to sit in the photo with the child, and the child is on the parent’s or the caregiver’s lap. That’s one way to make it a positive experience for everybody.”
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.