Scott Barbour/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Why You Should Not Force Your Kids to Sit On Santa's Lap, According To Experts

Ad failed to load

For many families, it's a time-honored holiday tradition: Waiting in line for hours at a hot and crowded mall so that proud parents can hoist their (possibly terrified) tot onto the lap of a total stranger in a fake beard. If you really think about it, the whole thing is pretty bizarre — maybe even borderline barbaric. Which begs the question: Should we force kids to sit on Santa's lap?

You might think this annual photo op is harmless enough, but experts warn that some kids could be traumatized by the experience, particularly if they're reluctant to get up close and personal with old St. Nick's stand-in. And it's important to remember that just because they seem enthusiastic about the idea in theory doesn't mean they won't get cold feet when they make it to the head of the line.

"Some children, especially kids under the age of 5 years, may get upset and cry by a visit to Santa," says Dr. Fran Walfish, family and relationship psychotherapist and the author of The Self-Aware Parent.

Ad failed to load

"The reason is because of the costume, mask, makeup, false beard, rosy cheeks, and deep 'Ho, ho, ho' voice," she explains.  

Giphy

"Toddlers have not yet mastered the concept of object constancy. It is hard for a young child to imagine that a human man can remain a human person while wearing a costume.  In other words, the toddler sees Santa in his costume and believes Santa is a walking and talking alien in a costume. The child doesn't understand that Santa is a real person who went in the other room and put a costume disguise on."

Ad failed to load

"Forcing a child to sit on Santa's lap is sometimes terrifying for a child," agrees social worker Kryss Shane, LSW, LMSW.

"It's someone they don't know who may smell or feel funny to them and it's in a public setting with strange people and sounds all around."

Well, that would indeed be terrifying! When you look at it from a small child's perspective, it starts to seem like a miracle that any kids actually hop up and rattle off their wishlist with no reservations. Still, some parents — knowing their child isn't in any actual danger — might be tempted to press the issue, especially if they've wasted half the day waiting to fork over a bunch of cash for a cherished memory with Kris Kringle. Understandable, to be sure, but a mistake.

Ad failed to load
Giphy

"If your child is upset, afraid or cries when visiting Santa don't force the visit," says Walfish.  

"Instead, comfort your young child. Be sure you cozy up, put your arm around your child, and give your child permission to express his fears and anger at you for taking him to see Santa before he was ready. Tell him you won't do that again. Next time you will ask him if he wants to visit Santa. If he says no you will respect his wishes.  An attuned, sensitive parent follows her child's lead."

Ad failed to load

Besides potentially giving your kid nightmare fodder for life, making him sit on Santa's lap when he doesn't want to also sends the wrong message: That they can't trust us to take their feelings seriously and meet their needs on an unconditional basis.

"If we minimize their emotions (by telling them sitting on Santa's lap is no big deal, for example), we teach them to stuff their feelings. We leave them feeling alone in a sea of emotions. All feelings are important, and it's important for parents to put their own needs aside for a moment to help their kids through difficult moments," Katie Hurley, LCSW and author of The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World wrote in Parenting.

All that said, there might still be a way to salvage the big moment if your kid refuses physical contact with Santa. Let go of the lap idea, suggests Shane.

Ad failed to load

"Instead, see if you can get Santa to hold a beloved toy and have the child hold the toy too. Another option is for the parent or an older sibling to hold the child while standing in front of Santa and then backing up so that the child is near Santa without realizing it or having to directly engage with Santa. This keeps everyone safe and happy, which increases the likelihood of getting a great photo!"

I have three kids whose ages range from 3 to 16, and so far none of them have ever sat on Santa's lap. Sure, I offered to facilitate such a meeting, but none of them ever even entertained the possibility. The oldest two were content to observe him from afar, while my youngest recently decided that he felt comfortable enough to stand near Santa and tell him what he wanted from a safe distance. Santa should be fun, not scary. And I don't ever want my kids to feel like they're not in control of their own bodies.

Also, guess what? If you don't make your kid sit on Santa's lap, you don't have to pay for an overpriced photo package. Ho, ho, ho!

Ad failed to load

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Umm, Toys "R" Us Has A BOGO 50 Percent Off Deal So You Better Stock Up

After the holidays, you were probably hoping that your kid's massive toy collection would keep him entertained for a little while, at least. But that was wishful thinking, wasn't it? Because now that a couple of months have passed, all those must-hav…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

Turns Out, Kim Kardashian's Favorite Mom Products Look A Lot Like Your Own Faves

Being a mom is really hard work, especially for the first few months, and Kim Kardashian West is no different in that regard. Now the mother of three, Kardashian says that there are a few products she just can't live without when it comes to raising …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

These 9 Instant Pot Recipes Will Make Even The Pickiest Eater Happy At The Table

Like any parent, I've had my share of parenting hits and misses, but one of my favorite "wins" is my daughter's diverse palate. I don't even know if I can take credit for it, but I would like to think I had something to do with her love for lentils, …
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

Soda Might Hurt Your Fertility, Study Says, & Here's What You Can Do

Who doesn't love sugary drinks? I stopped drinking soda years ago, but I still love gulping down those fancy Starbucks coffee beverages. I don't have a big sweet tooth, but I am a sucker for sugar-sweetened beverages every now-and-then. Turns out, th…
By Annamarya Scaccia

10 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 30s

If you're like me, you evaluate the pros and cons of any major life decision. When my husband and I were considering starting a family, I thought about my career, education, and financial stability. I wanted to know how a pregnancy and childbirth wou…
By Steph Montgomery

This Woman Thought She Had An Eyelash Stuck In Her Eye. Then It Moved.

I'm not a person who is easily icked out. As a kid, I collected bugs and thought I was going to be an entomologist and asked Santa Claus for ant farms and nets to catch bees. I'm still super curious about anything that flies and crawls, which might s…
By Karen Fratti

A Hot Mess Mom's Guide To Surviving Winter

As I sit here at my home office in Connecticut, it's cold. Damn cold. Winter is a rough season in New England and it's even worse when you're a parent and have to manage cooped up, restless children. It's even worse when you're a hot mess as it is, u…
By Jamie Kenney

5 Red Flags Your Toddler Isn't Eating Enough

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters, at least in my experience. You offer mashed potatoes, they want french fries. You give them crackers, they scream for chips. It's frustrating, to be sure, but it's usually their way of vying for independence. It…
By Candace Ganger

11 Ways Your Pregnancy Will Be Different If You Have A Boy Vs A Girl

If you've been pregnant before, you might start comparing your previous pregnancies to that of your current pregnancy. A lot of things can change from pregnancy to pregnancy, based on a whole host of different factors (including how well you remember…
By Lauren Schumacker

35 Moms Share The Most Disgusting Things Their Husbands Do

I'm a human being who revels in challenges. I like when people present me with one, especially if they don't think I can meet or succeed it, and I like taking a challenge on, especially if it's unexpected. So when I aimed to uncover the most disgusti…
By Jamie Kenney

How Having Kids In Your 20s Affects You Later In Life

For parents, like myself, who had kids in their 20s, there are a number of questions that come to mind. When you're deciding what your future will look like, you'll likely consider what this means for your health, career, and more down the line. Thin…
By Tessa Shull

8 Reasons I Let My Toddler Play Outside Unsupervised

I'm not a helicopter mom, but I'm not exactly a free-range parent either. I like to think of myself as safely ensconced somewhere in the middle. I insist on certain safety measures, like car seats and helmets. I prefer to keep my 2-year-old in my sig…
By Kimmie Fink

12 Moms Share How They Stay Healthy During Flu Season

Unfortunately, we're in the middle of the roughest flu seasons in recent memory. And we’re not totally out of the woods, either. People around the country are still getting the flu, and, sadly, some of them are having to be hospitalized due to flu-re…
By Priscilla Blossom

8 "Mistakes" I'm Glad I Made During My First Pregnancy

As an adult, I've learned you never really stop hating being told what to do. When I was pregnant I was getting instructions at every turn, from doctors, relatives, and complete strangers on the subway. I would nod and smile but then go about making …
By Liza Wyles

Study: Drinking Two Glasses Of Wine A Day Is Good For Your Mind — Here's Why

There’s more scientific proof that a daily drink or two isn't necessarily a bad thing and could have a place in an overall healthy lifestyle. A new study out of the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in New York found that — in mice, at le…
By Tiffany Thomas

Research Says Eating Carbs Can Lead To A Healthy Pregnancy, So Bring On The Pasta

In the world of me, no food is better than bread. I know it's supposed to be pretty terrible for you, high in calories, low in protein, and full of that modern-day demon, gluten... but guys, it's really yummy. Especially warm out of the oven, when th…
By Jen McGuire

These Photos Of Prince George Then & Now Will Give You Serious Baby Fever

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their third child in Spring 2018. With all of the excitement surrounding the new baby, it's easy to forget all of the good times that have already passed. The couple's eldest is already well into the sc…
By Azure Hall

This Is, Hands Down, The *Grossest* Thing Babies Do Inside The Womb

Your baby's life in the womb may be safe and warm, but it's also kind of grody. Seriously, the whole process of growing into a human being includes more than a few icky moments along the way. But this is the grossest thing babies do inside the womb b…
By Lindsay E. Mack