What to do when your child is afraid of Santa

What to do when your child is afraid of Santa

This time of year, malls are packed with families anxiously waiting to see Santa. But what do you do when your child is scared of the man in the red suit? Should you encourage them to take a picture and face their fear, or will doing so cause mental harm?

We asked licensed mental health counselor, Kimble Richardson, to weigh in on this issue.

Here is what he had to say: 

Should parents encourage their child to sit on Santa’s lap even if they are hesitant or scared?
Yes, it’s fine to encourage a visit to Santa, but not to force it. Parents may elect to walk up with their child in line, hold their hand, or even hold them while standing next to Santa to help them feel calmer. However, if a child is physically upset, I would not force it. 

Is the age of the child a factor to consider?
Yes, the age certainly matters. The younger the child, the more apt they are to be anxious and fearful. Sometimes, not only is sitting on a stranger’s lap scary, but doing so in front of a lot of other people and/or parents who may be expecting more from the child than they can handle at their age.

Could a parent cause harm to their child’s mental or emotional health by forcing them to sit with Santa?
I’ve never read (or heard of) studies suggesting this may cause long-term harm to a child. That said, if your child ends up crying, screaming, or appears terrified, you might want to forgo the visit. 

Or perhaps you could make a couple of trials runs and allow them to see what it’s like to visit Santa. Sometimes when they see other children having fun, it allows them to feel more confident. 

Remember, it’s never appropriate for a parent to ridicule, make fun of, or shame a child for being afraid. That is a definite no-no. 

What advice can you provide to parents who are taking their child to see Santa for the first time?
Start by reading and talking about Santa days or weeks ahead of the visit. Show them pictures and discuss what is expected (sitting on his lap or standing next to him, telling him what you want for Christmas, perhaps getting a candy cane after you’re done, etc.).

If other people, such as grandparents, may have a calming effect, bring them along!

What should a parent do if the idea of Santa entering the house to leave presents makes their child uncomfortable?
Reassure the child that Santa is good and nice. Tell them that he only wants to help children feel happy.

Parents can also have their child pick out a food or snack for Santa to eat while he’s at the house. Traditionally, this has been milk and cookies, but I’ve heard other families leave out carrots for him to give to the reindeer too.

To learn more about Community Behavioral Health services, visit us online or call 317-621-5719.