A Visit To St. Nick
malls or department stores offer children the opportunity to visit with a
Santa "look-alike" to let him know about their secret gift
wishes. Stores are not completely altruistic in this offering. Most entice
parents with the offer of a special holiday photo of their child with
Santa. Some now even sell videotapes of the child's conversation with
Most parents and other adults enjoy the
image or thought of a child sharing their holiday wishes with Santa. Some
actively cultivate their child's belief in Santa to the point that older
children, ten- and eleven-year olds, pretend to believe in Santa so as not
to disappoint the mother and father. Unfortunately, few adults think about
the visit to Santa from the perspective of their child.
In the comfort and security of their own
home, most children think positively about the Santa figure. They have
been told that he is a benevolent spirit who is responsible for many of
the gifts they will receive. What is not to like about a stranger who is
willing to stay up late at night so he can leave you gifts? Santa's' on
television and in print are not threatening. After all, you can turn the
page or use the remote to remove them. Santa's' in person are something
Before taking a child to visit Santa, it is
a good idea to observe other children making their holiday pilgrimage.
This will provide cues about what children find scary. This
"pre" trip lets a parent describe to a child exactly what can be
expected to happen. A verbal description can be followed with a
no-pressure visit to watch other children talking to Santa. A child can
scope out the situation, ask questions, and make a decision about whether
it looks fun to sit on the bearded-one's knee. A final step is to get a
decision from the child about what she would like to do, and to then make
plans for her own visit.
This may seem like a lot of work for
something that many children think of as normal. But it does avoid scenes
that are caused when a child is not prepared for a Santa visit and is
surprised and scared. Santa does not seem like a benevolent figure to a
child who is screaming, crying and tantruming at his feet. Children, like
their parents, are under some stress during the holidays and do not need
stress increased by being confronted by a scary man in odd clothing in a
Not all Santa's' are created equal. Some
understand very well the importance of their holiday performance. They
take their role very seriously, planning their costumes and organizing
their real lives around their shopping center duties. The best Santa's'
are those who respect and enjoy children. They know how to respond to
children of different ages and put them at ease. A good Santa will not let
a parent force a child to talk to him. He recognizes that a child who is
not ready this year may be more willing next year, if not forced.
Children remember their Santa experiences.
One adult recalled being scared to talk to Santa when she was a
kindergartner. The only thing that made her complete the visit was a taunt
from an older friend, "You can get out of line if you want to you are
probably too scared, anyway." She proceeded with that visit, but she
never went back again.
Children give very visible cues as to their
discomfort. One little girl put herself in reverse and backed up and out
of the Santa line much faster than she had entered. Another loved
interacting with Santa's helpers, but every time Santa looked at him he
screamed. You know it is the holiday season when you hear the sounds of
children's cries echoing through the mall.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC.
Source: Adapted from Ann Mullis. "Because I Said So". North
Dakota State University Extension Service.