Why is my child afraid of Santa Claus?

       A beautifully dressed two-year-old waits in line to see Santa Claus. When it’s her turn, Santa says, “Come here, little girl,” and the girl’s parents say, “Go sit on his lap.” She listens, looks at the smiling face in front of her, and bursts into tears. She’s afraid of Santa.

       It surprises people to learn that many children fear such a friendly character. After all, from a parent’s perspective, Santa represents love and the spirit of gift giving. When a child resists sitting on kind Santa’s lap, her parents become embarrassed and easily wonder, “What’s wrong with her?” They may try to force their child onto Santa or use threats and bribes: “If you sit on Santa’s lap you’ll get a lot of toys for Christmas.”

       Even when parents are patient, they’re usually unsuccessful in getting their child to come in contact with Santa. Young children struggle and resist him out of fear, and it’s almost impossible to convince them not to be afraid.

       Most children under the age of five believe that what they hear and see is real. They regard their own perspective as absolute and for them. Santa is real. They see him in shopping malls, they read and sing about him, and their parents talk as though he truly existed.

       This Santa, with a rather deep voice and a beard that covers most of his face, can be scary-looking and unpleasant to a young child. Since she’s in contact with Santa only during the Christmas season, he’s unfamiliar and children do not go to unfamiliar people with ease. She’s not sure he’s nice and her parents aren’t always reassuring about his looks. While they tell her that a Halloween character or a clown is only someone dressed in a costume, they don’t say that Santa, too, is wearing a costume. They don’t want her to know.

       A young child’s belief in a real Santa can take on a mysterious quality, giving Santa tremendous power. Santa “knows” when she is good or bad, and he decides which gifts she will receive. He seems omnipotent, flying through the sky, entering her home when she’s asleep, watching her all the time. It can be frightening for her to think about Santa coming at night and when she learns that he arrives through the chimney she begins to wonder, “How will he fit? What if he falls? How does he get the toys down the chimney?” If there is no chimney, “How will he get in?”

       A child may worry about being judged by Santa, who will decide if she’s been good enough to receive gifts on Christmas. And her parents, not realizing she’s already under a lot of pressure during this time of the year, may say, “You’d better be good or Santa won’t bring you a present.” Adults often use this line when they’re frustrated with children’s behavior, but it adds a threatening note to the fun and excitement of Christmas gift-giving. A child who hears this threat repeatedly may become anxious, silly, aggressive, or fearful.

       Realistically, a child cannot live up to Santa’s or her parents’ expectations of good behavior. Young children struggle when they have to pick up their toys, they don’t like to go to bed, they usually don’t brush their teeth or wash their hands and faces without being reminded (at least twice), and they usually don’t help with day-to-day chores. It’s not that children are “bad,” it’s that parents’ and Santa’s expectations are unrealistic.

       Given Santa’s power to judge, his unusual appearance, and his ability to see and be everywhere it’s not surprising when a young child has ambivalent feelings about approaching him. She wants to tell him what to bring for Christmas and she wants to please her parents, but she’s afraid.

       Fortunately, if your child fears Santa, there are a variety of things you can do ahead of time to help her feel better. The most important is to reassure and prepare her by talking about Santa, mentioning his size, voice, and clothes. You can explain that he is friendly and enjoys talking with children about Christmas. You also can try letting your child go up to him with a sibling or friend. Be selective about the Santas you visit, asking your friends about their experiences at various shopping centers, and watching a Santa to see how he acts with young children. A Santa who doesn’t put too much pressure on children will make you and your child more comfortable.

       Finally, consider your child’s age and personality when deciding how far to go during the Santa visit. A shy child might display more apprehension than an outgoing child. A one and one-half- or two-year-old will be more frightened than a three- or four-year-old. Children with confident older siblings can often be convinced that Santa is nice and likes children.

       Whatever you try, your child may still cry and refuse to go to Santa. If this happens, step back with her and try to find a good alternative activity such as waving to him or sitting down to watch. In a year or so there are bound to be changes in her attitudes, and even though she cries this year, she may have fun visiting Santa next Christmas.

 Picture Credit : Google