The Mall is Scary Enough During Christmas – Introduce Santa to Your Child Before You Get There
If your toddler is like mine, they enter the mall all smiles and giggles awaiting the fun and treats ahead of them. My two year old actually knows and responds to the words shopping at the mall! This past weekend, our family braved one of the more exciting Houston area malls with trepidation. First, it was prime shopping season, and second in the past years the greetings with Santa and those expectations of adorable photos of the children with him were not met with the “joys of the season.” Last year our 6 week old daughter and 1 ½ year old went to visit Santa. The older of the two, was very excited and her smile absolutely beamed as she saw the reindeer and decorations at the mall. However, after our long wait in line, the smile faded as she approached the jolly old elf with his “tummy that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly” and chubby cheeks. Whether it was the beard or the hearty, “Ho HO HOOO! Merry Christmas!” I will never know, but she was frightened beyond belief. Screaming and running away for this happy old man in a red suit she screamed, “Mommyyyyyyyyy,” and threw herself into my arms. All efforts to have her visit with Santa were in vain. No amount of coaxing, candy or promises to sit on Santa’s lap with her failed. Personally, I am sure Santa was thrilled that I didn’t sit on his lap.
This year I was determined to capture the perfect picture. Both the girls loved photographs and I thought that the presence of a camera would be a great deal of encouragement.
The lines went all the way around the play area so we decided to move on to the main event itself, a visit and picture with Santa Claus. As we stood in line, photograph packages were thrust upon us, however, knowing what happened last year, I hesitated to commit to anything. Then it was our turn, the great man himself was in front of us. He looked at me as said, “Two?? At the same time?” As if this was something new to him. I placed the youngest of the two on his lap with him directing me, “Drop them and run Mom.” Sorry, Santa, this is not how this mom does things. The two year old is settled on his lap by dad and I take the youngest to him. I place her on his lap, she is one, and squalls and screams of fear vibrate throughout the area. Her eyes fill with tears, she attempts to squirm out of his lap and in sympathy, and the older of the two who was settled nicely begins to cry also.
I may have hurt Santa’s feelings this year as I snatched my youngest out of his lap, cooing and cradling her fears away. She practically scrambles over my shoulder in an effort to get as far away from this scary creature as possible. This is the child that during Halloween laughed and giggled at all the costumes as I opened the door and had to push all the buttons on all the decorations just to see how they work.
The two year old, after seeing that her younger sister is ok, looks quizzically at Santa. Her tears have dried and you can see the thoughts running through her head. As we urge her to once again visit Santa by sitting on his lap, she exclaims, “No Sissy do!” Our poor 12 year old humored her sister by sitting on Santa’s lap in an effort to show exactly how safe and fun Santa can be. With candy cane in hand, finally, success! The two year old allows Santa to hold her, the 12 year old is embarrassed beyond belief and the 1 year old says, “Momma, momma” and is thrilled that her torture is at an end. In a minute, our darling’s beatific smile appears and she exclaims, “Santa!” No, there is no picture of it, but maybe next year. After all, if I have to pay $20.00 for two 5×7 prints, I better have a two smiling faces.
What is my trick you ask? Other than making her big sister perform? Here are a few tips that can help you dispel the fear and frustration your child may feel towards this strange man with a great big beard and hearty laugh.
1. Start a couple of weeks ahead of time, read to your child Christmas books, pointing out Santa whenever possible.
2. Buy your own Santa hat. Where it around the house, when shopping (it’s acceptable, after all it’s the holiday season). You may look a little silly, but it will become something familiar and comfortable that your child has seen over and over. Then when they see it on Santa, although he is unfamiliar, the hat isn’t.
3. Watch DVD’s with Santa in them. Name Santa as you see him in the DVD. The Santa Clause and of course the old favorites of Rudolph, Santa is Coming to Town and any others you can find will help your child become accustomed to the unusual attire of Santa.
4. Make the Ho Ho Ho sounds. Sounds silly I know, but when reading the books to your child, act it out. Mom’s go deep and say it with gusto.
5. Go to the mall after nap and give them a snack first. Tired and hungry children will be unhappy no matter what. Get them happy before taking them to see Santa; you chances of success are much greater.
6. If your child is frightened, don’t push it. Who cares if you get that picture this year? Better to have a picture of your child smiling in the mall’s play area than to spend all that money on one of your child abjectly unhappy. She may just always stay that way if you force it. Allow your child to accept Santa in her own good time.
7. Sing Christmas carols with your child. The words alone give verbalization to images. Your child will become accustomed to the images they see and hear in your voice. No, a toddler probably does not understand the exact meaning of the word in many of the songs, but repetition is important. The more your child knows the more comfortable they are.
Familiarity is the key. Children are comfortable with what they know. The more they “know” Santa, from the costume, words and deeds you expose them to; the more comfortable that they are when they see the real thing.
Next year, who knows, maybe I will actually have a photograph with both children in it. Maybe I should start preparing them at Halloween.