Tag Archives: santa

Stranger = Danger…Except for Santa Claus!

santa-blogKids love Santa! He brings them toys, and has great songs and stories that they want to hear over and over. Children often enthusiastically agree to visit Santa to tell him about their Christmas lists. But parents are then confronted with the dilemma of taking said kids to visit Santa only to have the same enthusiasm replaced with tears. There is no shortage of images on the web of children dressed in their holiday best, howling on Santa’s lap with outstretched arms toward a parent who has abandoned them just out of frame. I also remember being wary of a man entering our house unnoticed as a child, even if he was bringing presents. Here are a few tips for parents who want to help their children enjoy this holiday tradition and maybe even ace that holiday photo.

First, recognize that stranger anxiety is a healthy and expected developmental phase for young children. Toddlers and preschoolers are most likely to fear a visit to Santa. As familiar as the character of Santa becomes for young children through stories, images, and songs it still feels jarring to go up to a large man with a face-covering beard, in a loud red costume, and sit on his lap to have a heart to heart. Try to give your child more control in the situation. You can do this by letting them bring a lovey, decide whether they will speak or not, watch older siblings or friends go first, or letting them walk up to Santa and decide if they want to sit or stand.

Second, let your child know what to expect in advance and give them an out at any time. You can even do this by acting it out with your child during play at home. If your child does not feel overwhelmed by the novelty of the situation, he or she is more likely to handle the experience with less fear. The additional control and trust that is established if your child knows he or she can opt out of the Santa meet and greet at any time will also promote bravery and comfort.

Third, approach the event with your own anxiety in check. If you are worried about how your child will react, if it will go well, or if your child will be polite, that worry will register to your child and make them feel there is something to worry about. For example, if you follow the advice above and give your child an out, mention it but do not repeat it with pressured speech every time the line advances forward. After the 5th repetition of “we don’t have to do this if you aren’t ready,” your child will imagine terrible things they SHOULD opt out of at the front of the line and take your cue. Be relaxed, supportive, upbeat and open to hearing what your child is feeling. If you can take the pressure off your child will be more likely to enjoy him or herself.

Finally, don’t sweat it if your child gets upset when the moment arrives. Usually the fear of Santa disappears as children enter elementary school age with no lasting scars of Christmas’ past. And it’s nothing that can’t be soothed with a hug from you and perhaps a hot chocolate on the way home.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Lauren Knickerbocker, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. Dr. Knickerbocker specializes in treating selective mutism and anxiety in young children, ADHD and difficulties with organization and time management, disruptive behaviors, and parent management training. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, a part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital.

Is Santa Real? Tips for Answering the Big Question This Season


The holiday season, while typically a time for celebrations with family and friends, can also be stressful for parents as they scramble to shop for the perfect presents, cook holiday meals, and see extended family. A unique source of concern this time of year involves the dreaded question. I’m not talking about the “Are we there yet?” question from young travelers or the “Do I have to share my new toy?” complaint from siblings. I’m talking about the inquiry into Santa’s existence. Here are some tips for what to do when your child looks you in the eye and asks, “Is Santa real?”

Child development experts typically agree that believing in Santa Claus is not harmful for children. It’s similar to a number of other childhood myths like the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. Myths are fun for children who are developing creativity and imagination. Holiday myths often involve family traditions that bring parents and children together, including visiting and taking pictures with Santa, writing him letters with Christmas lists, and leaving out milk and cookies on Christmas Eve. Most of these traditions foster family togetherness and also offer fun opportunities to work on skills such as writing or baking. For families who do not celebrate Christmas or decide not to go along with the Santa story, there’s no harm in skipping out on this tradition either. There’s plenty of other great ways to foster family traditions and child creativity.

If you are a family who gets a visit from Santa each year, there is no perfect time to break the news to your child. Children question and give up the myth of Santa Claus at different times. Some will ask after talking to other children at school, while others will begin to think critically about the logic. For instance, your child may begin to test the story with questions like “How does Santa fit all the presents in one sleigh?” and “How does he get around the entire world in one night?”

When your child starts asking questions, resist the urge to either cover for Santa with a lie or spill the beans about the myth. Instead, it’s helpful to ask some follow up questions to see what your child knows and wants to believe. While some children logically understand that Santa does not exist, they may not be ready to completely give him up. Your child may ask, “Why does Santa look different in different places?” If your response is, “What do you think?” your child has the opportunity to say, “Well, I think it’s because he’s not real,” indicating she may be ready to give up Santa or “I guess he has helpers,” which suggests she is not yet ready.

When your child’s response suggests that he or she is ready to let go of Santa, consider starting other holiday traditions. This can include shopping and donating gifts for children in need or helping to keep the myth going for younger siblings.

NYULMC-2011_2CP_RGB_300dpiFrom the Real Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center:

Stephanie Wagner, Ph.D., is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. She specializes in behavioral treatments for sleep as well as providing psychosocial interventions, including parent training, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and school consultation to parents and teachers of children with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. She is also the co-director of Early Childhood Service at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center.