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Is Your Child Scared of Santa?

It may seem like a great idea and a fun thing to do to get your child’s photo taken with Santa Claus. Afterall, ‘tis the season to send photos of your precious little lovebug to close friends and family, right?

If your child is okay, not reacting to Santa by crying, screaming, or fussing, then it’s perfectly fine to capture your child’s holiday photo with the famous guy from the North Pole. However, be aware that things can go south quickly. Often, children are frightened of Santa Claus. Think about it: Imagine being passed over to a stranger, and this person doesn’t resemble any other human being (who else sports a bright red jumpsuit and a big white beard on the daily?).

If a stranger came into your home and held your child and then started screaming in fright, you would immediately take your child back into your arms to comfort and reassure them that they are safe; that is what you should do if your child has the same reaction to Santa Claus. Your child’s screaming indicates a child in terror - regardless of if it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Trying to distract your child or trying to make them smile for the camera is not a good idea, either. Yes, you know there is no present danger, and it is a fun holiday tradition, but that is not how your child is experiencing things. If your child fears Santa Claus, I recommend taking a cute picture of your baby at home wearing an adorable Santa hat instead. 

Let’s break it down

Every emotion or experience you have is recorded in your memory and stored in your subconscious mind. We are biological animals and fear is a built-in survival mechanism.

Does the fear a little one has of monsters relate to frightening experiences they had earlier in life? To children, monsters can represent fear, something unknown, powerlessness, a perceived threat, a lack of safety. This is what a frightened child of Santa Claus is feeling.

When your child is a little older, the same principle applies. Your child may not be feeling terror when snapping a pic with Santa Claus, but they may be feeling extremely uncomfortable at the prospect of walking away from you to sit on a stranger’s lap; this should always be a choice your child makes freely. It is not appropriate to coax your child toward Santa to take a photo or make your child feel bad about it. (I still remember being five years old waking my parents up on Christmas morning. My parents told me to go and see what Santa brought. I was afraid to go into the living room in case Santa was still there!)

Again, think about it: You teach your child not to talk to or go with a stranger. Your child can be reticent and hide behind you, even when a new friend comes over for a playdate. You accept this as normal and give your child time to become comfortable with their guest. The important thing here is to let your child take the lead. If you sense their discomfort or hesitation, let them know it is okay not to get close to Santa. They need to know that you understand and are not disappointed if they do not want to participate in the holiday photo with Santa Claus. If you want to help your child ‘get over’ their fear of Santa, a healthier approach is to allow your child to respond however they need to at each stage.

Teach your child the true meaning of Christmas

Santa embodies the whole idea of the Christmas season as a time of caring, togetherness, and magic. Santa is a loving, merry person who cares about children so much that he wants to deliver toys to children around the world.

Using Santa as a disciplinary measure or threat sends mixed messages to kids. If Santa was real, he would not hold back presents if a child did not eat their vegetables! The notion that if you are good, you get presents and if you are bad, you get a lump of coal has a disturbing subtle message that a child is ‘bad.’ Many adults still carry that inner message that they are bad or unworthy.

In our country, most children are blessed with the basic needs of life: food, shelter, water, medical care. They do not have to experience war or displacement from their homes. It is important, especially at Christmas time, to model for your child the importance of doing something good that helps those less fortunate; the importance of giving, not receiving.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and an award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article or to obtain books, CDs, or MP3s, visit For daily inspiration, follow her on Facebook.


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