It’s that time of year again when parents bring their children to the mall to get that perfect picture with Santa. While some children might be excited to tell Santa what’s on their lists, others might feel a bit anxious.
Jonathan Pochyly, PhD, a Pediatric Psychologist at Lurie Children’s, says, “Most children will not have a problem seeing Santa but some children might feel timid or even fearful. 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’s natural for some kids to feel more anxious in these types of situations especially if it’s completely new to them. “Even if it’s the second or third year of visiting with Santa, remember it occurs just one time a year, very briefly so a young child might not even remember meeting Santa prior,” says Pochyly.
Parents or caregivers can prepare a child to see Santa by explaining to them what to expect. “Help your child understand what will happen prior to getting in line for a photo. This might be through story-telling, 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.
Pochyly stresses to follow your child’s lead. “If you sense your child is fearful, talk to them and validate their thoughts and feelings.” Children rely on reassurance from their parents and adults they trust when they find themselves in strange or unknown situations. Pochyly reminds, “A parent’s smile and enthusiasm when encountering Santa or any unfamiliar experience creates positive guidance and provides an example for the kids.”
Lastly, Pochyly advises to 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.