Ho-Ho Horrified: When Your Child is Scared of Santa

Many parents can't wait to get that classic photo of their little one on Santa's lap, but often times, a trip to see the jolly old elf in the red suit can result in a public display of tears and screams.

Posted: Dec. 12, 2017 7:17 AM
Updated: Dec. 12, 2017 7:17 AM

Many parents can't wait to get that classic photo of their little one on Santa's lap, but often times, a trip to see the jolly old elf in the red suit can result in a public display of tears and screams.

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Kate Eshleman, PsyD, a pediatric behavioral specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children's, said it's important to keep in mind that a visit to Santa should be fun for everyone involved, not just mom and dad.

"This is meant to be a fun and enjoyable activity for the whole family," said Dr. Eshleman. "If the child appears reluctant, encourage the child to give it a try – it's always important to try things we're a little bit afraid of – but if they're really hesitant or don't want to do it, forcing them is not going to help."

Dr. Eshleman said if it's a child's first ever visit to see Santa, it's a good idea to proceed with some caution.

She said it's important to have an idea ahead of time of whether the child is really interested in seeing Santa up close and in person – or perhaps just from afar.

For children who are old enough to communicate their wishes, Dr. Eshleman recommends asking them what they'd like to do – in order to help manage their expectations.

She said parents should keep in mind that we spend a lot of time warning our children about stranger danger, and that even though Santa is a friendly character, he's still a stranger to them and it can be frightening.

Dr. Eshleman said by doing some research ahead of time, parents can help save themselves and their children from an agonizing experience.

"A lot of times, you can look up the specific Santa online; maybe show the child a picture of what they can expect to see, and ask them what they would like to talk to Santa about and frame it in a positive light," said Dr. Eshleman.

Dr. Eshleman said if a child gets terrified by Santa in public, the best thing a parent can do is to remain calm.

She recommends reassuring the child and putting a positive spin on the experience, but if that doesn't work, it's best to remove them from the situation entirely.

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