10 tips on preparing kids to see the man in red
Last Updated December 7, 2006
A trip to see Santa can be a dizzying and sometimes terrifying experience — a blur of long lines, wish lists, flash bulbs and hearty ho ho ho's. But it's the clever parent that prepares a child for the 30 seconds with the jolly big guy and walks away with a happy child and a sweet snapshot to commemorate the occasion.
Here are some smart tips on how to successfully navigate the holiday chaos and make your child's visit with Santa a happy memory.
Have a Santa movie marathon
Rent Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for pre-visit screenings and leaf through as many Santa picture books as possible, says Victor Nevada, owner of the Alberta-based Santa School.
Nevada says when many children first see Santa, they're surprised by his long white beard, his big booming voice and his bright red suit. If children are familiar with Santa's appearance, they’ll feel more comfortable approaching him, he advises.
"Parents should make their child familiar with the character — read stories with pictures," he says. "Watch as many Santa movies as you possibly can and talk your child through that."
Write a letter to Santa
Old photographs and letters can help children develop a sense of trust and ease with Santa Claus. Sit down with your child and help them write a letter to Santa, explaining that he brings toys to good boys and girls around the globe.
Canada Post's letter-writing campaign ensures that each child who sends a letter with a return address will receive a response from the North Pole. If short on time, find a website that will return an immediate response via e-mail for a fee.
Parents can also dig up old photographs of themselves sitting on Santa's knee to show that Santa can be trusted.
"Children will see, 'If Mom or Dad did that, I can do that too,'" says Nevada.
Go on a Wednesday
While many shoppers are already in full swing and the shopping malls are usually pretty packed in the weeks leading up to Christmas, try to schedule a visit to Santa during times when there tends to be a lull. Nevada says in his experience, Wednesdays have proven to be the slowest shopping days at malls.
Parenting expert Ann Douglas agrees that finding the right time is crucial to making a nervous child feel more comfortable.
"Go during off-peak hours even if that means taking a long lunch hour or taking a half a day off," she suggests.
She also recommends taking into account your child's mood and energy cycles. Don't go before a scheduled nap or before lunch when long lines may force your child to become irritable or upset.
Ditch the formal wear
At the start of the day, your child may look picture perfect — with sparkly shoes and clean, pressed clothes. But by the time you reach the front of the line, shirts become untucked, hair is mussed, and ties have been tossed.
Douglas says parents should take a modern approach to photographs with Santa, dressing their children in holiday tracksuits or even pajamas.
"The itchy fabrics and the too hot holiday dresses and the uncomfortable stockings — all those things can make a difficult situation, worse," she says.
Bring snacks and a blankie
As daunting and difficult as long lineups are, prepared parents have a few tricks up their sleeves to make the experience more bearable.
Make sure your child has eaten and taken a bathroom break before getting into line. Parents should also pack a favourite teddy bear or a blankie to calm nervous children. Older children can entertain themselves with pocket toys or comic books.
When an emotional breakdown happens, take a step back
If your child breaks down in a fit of tears, get out of line and walk away to give your child some space but don't leave the mall just yet, Nevada recommends.
In some cases, all a frightened child needs is to observe from a distance.
"Let them watch the proceedings," he says. "If that child is of the age of reason, they'll see other children going up and chatting with Santa and walking away with a candy and they'll think, 'I'd better get up there and get mine too."
Give your child options
To combat feelings of powerlessness, parents can give their children a range of options to help them through the experience. Ask if they'd like to invite a friend, or if they'd like to bring mom or dad up for the photograph too, Douglas says.
Shy children can also choose if they want to stand beside Santa as an alternative to climbing up onto his lap.
Back slowly into the chair
For nervous parents determined to get a photo, Nevada has a trick that sometimes succeeds.
If the photographer, Santa, and the elves are aware of the plan, Nevada says a child can be walked backwards into the chair so he or she doesn't initially see Santa. If the timing is right, a picture can be snapped.
"Alert the photographer they have three seconds to get that picture," Nevada says.
Be prepared to walk away
If none of these techniques works, parents should be prepared to save a trip to see Santa for another year.
"I think parents need to realize that's OK if that happens," Douglas says. "We teach our children to trust their instincts so we shouldn't get angry about that just because we want a cute Christmas picture to mail out with the Christmas cards."
Douglas notes that the peak age for separation anxiety ranges from eight months to 14 months. She suggests parents take a holiday-themed photo at home instead to send out with Christmas cards.
Sometimes a bad photo can actually be the best photo
Sometimes, there's just nothing to be done. An emotional tearfest can't be stopped or a child will spill a bottle of juice down a crisply pressed dress. In those instances, you have to embrace the bad photo, Nevada says.
"That's not a bad photo," he says. "That's a photo that will be kept and brought out every Christmas and laughed about and treasured."
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