You’ve been standing in line for an hour, waiting to get a photo of little Jenny with Santa Claus. When you finally get to the front of the line, she bursts into tears and refuses to go anywhere near him. Sound familiar? Parents often have high expectations for their child’s visit with Santa, but things don’t always go as planned.
“There aren’t a lot of situations in which you would expect your child to warm up to a stranger immediately,” says Crista Donewar, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Medical Center. “So it may not be realistic to expect a small child to quickly warm up to this large person who is wearing a costume and a long beard.”
Even so, there are some things you can do that may help prepare your child for a visit with Santa. Following are some suggestions from Dr. Donewar:
- Explain what you’ll be doing and why.
For children who are old enough to understand, let them know that they will be sitting on Santa’s lap and that Santa might ask them what they want for Christmas.
- Consider the time of day.
There are certain times of day that kids do better, like earlier in the morning or after their nap time. You might also want to bring along some snacks or a toy to help entertain them while standing in line.
- Take cues from your child.
If your child seems fearful when you get to the front of the line, it might help for you to go up with her and even hold her in the picture, if necessary. Also, use whatever techniques are typically soothing for your child, such as rubbing her back or talking in a soothing voice.
- Take your time.
Set aside plenty of time for the outing to avoid the stress of having to hurry. If you have lots of time, you’ll all be able to tolerate crowds and long lines more cheerfully. If your child is scared when it’s her turn to see Santa, give her a few minutes to get comfortable. It might also help to go to the mall a few times before you actually visit Santa and just walk by. Explain it to her and get her excited.
- Make it fun.
Let your child know what to expect, but put the focus on fun.
- Don’t expect perfection.
Parents tend to have high expectations at this time of year for how everything should go. Don’t be disappointed if the photo doesn’t work out the way you had hoped. What now seems like a missed opportunity for a “perfect” picture with Santa may become a special photo in future years because it captured that visit to Santa.
We hope these six tips help your child to not be scared of Santa and that you both enjoy your visit. Happy Holidays!