Family life

Fear of Santa: It's OK to skip the photo op

Jennifer Pinarski is against having her kids pose for pictures with Santa. Here's why.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

It was 9:30 a.m. and I’d been standing in line to visit the mall Santa with my two children (then four and one) for more than 45 minutes already — even though Santa wasn’t due to arrive until 10:00 a.m. We were nowhere close to the front of the line. The families that surrounded me did their best to keep their kids happy but, the truth is, not a single person in the line looked like they wanted to be there. Kids and parents alike were overheated in their winter gear — as well as bored, hungry and tired. When Santa finally arrived (15 minutes late!), my daughter went into hysterics and we had to give up our spot in the line. Even my son thought it was a good idea to leave because it bothered him to see his sister so upset.

Read more: Why I’m glad my kids never believed in Santa >

The Christmas tradition of taking kids to visit Santa seems as essential to the holiday season as mistletoe and gingerbread — but it’s one that I just don’t get. Go ahead and call me a Grinch, but it’s the one tradition our family just can’t get behind, especially because my daughter is terrified of Santa. Nevermind the fact that I find it creepy and weird — it goes against everything we try to teach our kids about not being selfish and the risks of talking to strangers. Snapping a photo of my daughter crying on Santa’s lap just seems plain cruel. I, for one, hate the viral Internet photos that make the rounds this time of year that show kids in tears during their Santa visit.

But what if there was a way to convince my now three-year-old daughter that the big guy in red in OK? Earlier this week, Todaysparent.com Managing Editor Nadine Silverthorne sent me a list of professional tips on how parents could help their kids overcome their fear of Santa. Psychology professor Dr. Martin Antony, a leading expert on anxiety, offered up several helpful ideas, including showing your child pictures of Santa, watching movies with Santa in them and offering children a reward for having their picture taken with him. The idea, of course, is to show kids that the gigantic strange man in a red suit is safe for them to talk to and sit with. Exposing kids to things they are afraid of in a safe environment and cautious manner is a practice routinely suggested by psychologists and therapists. I can see these tips having a practical application for conquering fears of any kind that make day-to-day activities difficult (separation anxiety, for example), but my daughter’s fear of Santa is so strong that I’d have to start watching Christmas movies in the summer to even have a hope of getting her to sit on Santa’s lap. And for what — a picture? In my books, it’s just not worth it.

Are your children afraid of Santa? And if so, do you still take them to visit him? Tweet me @jenpinarski.