Should you ever force your kid to sit on Santa's lap?
Two boys sit for a photo with Santa. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
MONTREAL -- It’s an annual tradition many of us have taken part in – trudging down to the mall with our parents on a weekend to stand in an endless line, only to then have to climb onto (mall) Santa’s lap for a picture.
Most of us have at least one picture where we’re throwing a tantrum because that bearded man in a red suit is clutching us around the waist to stop us from tumbling to the floor, right?
But while It may not seem seem like much, demanding that your child sit on a stranger’s lap could actually be a dreadful experience.
Julia Genoni, a parenting expert and blogger with Ask Mama Moe, says she hasn’t taken her kids to take a photo with Saint Nick for years.
“I see lots of people sharing their photos and saying, ‘Look how upset my kid is.’ Like, really, this is what you want for your child?” she said. “It kind of freaks me out. I don’t endorse that situation.”
But what about getting that photo and making those memories?
Genoni says she’s had mixed feelings about the annual tradition since having her three kids, who are now ages 12, 10 and 10.
“We did it once or twice. The second time wasn’t exactly what I wanted for them. I’m very much of the mindset that if my child is not feeling comfortable, we’re not going to do this thing," she told CTV News.
“It didn’t make sense for me to put them through this uncomfortable experience to get a picture – and then what does that picture mean? It can change how they see Christmas and who this character is.”
Matthew Danbrook, a PhD candidate of school/applied child psychology at McGill University, adds that young children idealize their parents based on a relationship rooted in love and trust.
“Leaving a screaming or crying child with a stranger and telling your child to smile or if the adult is laughing while the child is in distress, contributes to the child’s learning that they have to override their own emotions in order to please others,” he points out.
“While this moment on its own will not likely break a secure parent-child relationship, for some children, it can contribute to the distrust the child may have with their parent.”
Forcing a child to sit on Santa’s – a stranger’s – lap also raises the issues of consent, Danbrook adds.
“Ideally, we want all boys and girls to learn that consent is necessary for any type of physical contact; a lesson I’m sure we can all agree is a valuable one as children grow and develop into adults,” he tells CTV News.
“Nobody should ever tell someone else what to do with their own body... If we are forcing children to sit on a stranger’s lap despite their wishes, the lesson being taught is that consent is not needed and it does not matter what a child wants to do with their body.”
Genoni insists it’s important that parents be aware of how their kids are feeling around the holidays when it comes to talking to strangers – or even family members they don’t see often.
“Suddenly, they’re in bigger situations and have to be social with people they haven’t seen for a year or more,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to hug everyone just because they’re related. It can be awkward for them – it’s even awkward for us.”
And, it doesn’t end at photos with Mr. Claus. Genoni says many parents shouldn't feel pressured to “get the most” out of every experience. (Think, Disney World).
“I don’t want to judge anybody and why they’re doing it, but I’m very much aware of how my kids are feeling. You have to wonder what memory you’re creating,” said Genoni.
“I don’t want to put them through any stress. If it’s something they feel comfortable with and they want to go and it makes them happy, (then do it), but if you see they’re getting anxious and they get there and they’re upset, give them the option to say, ‘No.’”
So, what's the best way to get that photo?
Danbrook says simply reassure your child that though Santa is a stranger, he is kind; maybe sit next to them in the photo to show that it is safe; or, if they're still resisting, it could be time to find another holiday tradition.