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Preschool Education Articles

A Visit To St. Nick

Most 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 Santa.

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 very different.

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 hectic atmosphere.

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.


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