There is nothing as equally adorable and heartbreaking as a photo of Santa Claus holding a crying baby. It's one thing for an infant to feel overwhelmed being handed over to the big guy in red, but what if your older kids are nervous about their visit with Santa? Before you get in that never ending line at the mall this Christmas, you should consider how to talk to your kids about sitting on Santa's lap.
Dr. Jennifer Snyder, a pediatrician with Memorial Physician Services in Illinois, told Live Well that a fear of Santa Claus is normal in children ages one through six. There are many reasons why your little one may find Santa frightening. It can be something that startles them such as his bright red suit, big white beard, or his deep voice. But it can also be something you haven't thought about: his omnipresence.
Parents often teach their children that Santa watches over them, judging their actions and deciding whether they're good or bad. ("He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake.") Liken it to an adult having to wait in a long line to talk to God face-to-face at the end of each year. It's no wonder some kids need a little pep talk before their visit with jolly old St. Nick. To your young child, Santa Claus is ultimately a stranger. It's easy to forget that kids don't have 30 years of familiarity with him.
Before heading out to meet Santa, help your child get to know more about him. In the weeks prior to your visit, read illustrated Christmas books and watch age-appropriate Christmas movies together. Help your child write a letter to Santa and discuss what they would like to ask Santa to bring them on Christmas morning. Explain the process of the visit and show them photos of their friends and family meeting Santa.
In an interview with Parents, Dr. Stephen Garber, founder of The Behavioral Institute of Atlanta and author of Monsters Under the Bed and Other Childhood Fears, suggested visiting Santa a few times with your child, standing at a distance, and watching how older kids approach him. Explain to your child that they don't have to sit on Santa's lap if they don't want to. Once they are ready to meet him, it's perfectly OK for them just to stand next him for a photograph. This will teach your child that you respect their wishes and that they have body autonomy – which is a much greater gift than anything they can receive under the tree.