Thursday, December 16, 2010

Santa Baby

I have exactly one photo of my kids in Santa's lap.  I don't know if that makes me a Scrooge or just a cheapskate.  I kind of vote for the latter, because we went to see Santa every year...I just refused to pay the megabucks for the tiny photos they took.  Anyway, we have a beautiful photo of both kids when they were very young with Santa.  After viewing a multitude of photographs featuring children screaming and Santas appearing under the influence of everything from alcohol to the devil, I feel fortunate that our picture is pretty plain.  Two kids, looking relatively peaceful, on a friendly Santa's lap.

Santa is such a wonderful, mystical character we share with children at Christmas.  He's the embodiment of selfless giving, of sharing, of kindness, much as the Christ child.  Because of this, it always stirkes me as odd and nearly painful when I hear parents routinely use Santa as a threat to their children.  One of my friends told me recently that she and her spouse have turned this into a game when they're out in public, counting how many times they hear parents of young children using Santa as a threat.

"You better be good or Santa will return all your toys!"  The variations are endless and the old guy is watching all the time.  For those of you old enough to remember the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes (written by Bill Watterson) you may recall the strip where Calvin is singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and asks the question on everybody's minds:  "Santa Claus--kindly old elf or CIA spy?"

Parents routinely threaten coal in stockings, presents being returned, no visit at all.  Then there's the emotional baggage that comes with it too, as in how disappointed Santa would be if he could see what you were doing right now; how he's here for the "good boys and girls".  The measurement of morality is huge--"Are you good enough to receive a gift from Santa?"  Sometimes the question is even asked innocently, but I remember as a child pondering that question.  Had I been good all year?  Certainly not (and I challenge any of you to say that you have been even as adults!).  Did I deserve Santa's gifts and kindness?  I really didn't know.  Probably not, but he'd bring me something anyway.

Santa Claus is a wonderful idea that we frequently use to beat our children about the head and shoulders to enforce appropriate behavior.  Maybe a better question to ask is why do kids get so out of sorts over the holidays?  As a mom and a teacher, here's my observations:
*kids are off their routines
*bedtimes are erratic
*normal nutritional needs are disrupted (i.e. more sweets and treats)
*parents are more stressed
*there's a lot of anticipation of special events, which equals stress.  Stress doesn't have to be bad to be stress.  And stress causes reactions, particularly in children.

So what to do?  Sometimes it's impossible to keep things stable and on a routine.  But it's a good idea to balance exciting activities with regular ones, to give downtime in between activities, to try to keep activities developmentally appropriate (short, fun, and call it a day when the kids are done), and review the schedule at the beginning of the day, as well as your expectations, so your child knows what to expect.  For young children, reviewing rules right before an activity can be very helpful.

So if you celebrate Christmas and Santa Claus this year, help the old guy stay fun and keep his job to be one of joy, rather than one of punishment.  I promise he (and your kids) will thank you for it.

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