How to Help a Child with a Fear of Visiting Santa Claus

It’s that time of year again when parents may bring their children to the mall to get that perfect picture with Santa Claus. While some kids might be excited to tell Santa what’s on their lists, others might feel a bit anxious. Our pediatric expert offers some tips on how parents can help ease their children's fears this holiday season. 

Why do some kids have a fear of Santa?

“Most children will not have a problem seeing Santa, but some children might feel timid or even fearful," says Jonathan Pochyly, PhD, a pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children’s. Kids are already susceptible to being afraid, and in this situation, they are in a crowded environment, meeting a stranger with a bright red suit and beard, and expected to sit on his lap. This can be a trigger for a meltdown.”

For many younger children, meeting Santa is an unfamiliar experience. It is natural for some kids to feel more anxious in these situations, especially ones that are completely new to them. “Even if it’s the second or third year of visiting with Santa, remember it occurs just once a year, very briefly so a young child might not even remember meeting Santa prior,” says Pochyly. 

If your child experiences anxiety or panic that impacts their behavior and life, talk to their primary care provider. They may recommend treatments to help better manage anxiety and fear.

How can parents help ease kid's anxiety?

Fear in young children is common and can manifest in many ways, ranging from mild anxiety to intense distress. However, parents can play a crucial role in helping their children overcome fear and embrace the joyful holiday season. Here are a couple of strategies and approaches you can employ to guide your child through anxious situations and could help create a positive Santa experience:

  • Prepare your child. Talking things through with your child before visiting Santa Claus can help make the experience better. You could even turn the preparation into fun traditions for the whole family. "This might be through storytelling, watching holiday movies or answering any questions about Santa from your child beforehand,” says Pochyly. It’s important to make your child feel as comfortable as possible and small amounts of exposure may make the experience less intimidating.
  • Pay attention to behaviors. Your child may not know how to talk about their feelings. If you sense your child is anxious, ask them questions to better understand their fears. Validate their thoughts and feelings so they know it is normal to feel scared and anxious sometimes.
  • Reassure your child. Children rely on reassurance from their parents and adults they trust when they find themselves in strange or unknown situations,“ Pochyly says. “A parent’s smile and enthusiasm when encountering Santa or any unfamiliar experience creates positive guidance and provides an example for the kids.” 
  • Never force it. If a child isn’t ready to sit on Santa’s lap for the perfect photo op, there is always next year. If your child's anxiety gets worse over time and impacts their daily life, talk to your child’s healthcare provider. 

Learn more about the Pritzker Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Lurie Children's

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