Stop Using “Santa is Watching” Threat this Christmas
He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, at least that’s what we were told. The threat of landing on the naughty list seems almost as old as time. You know the story, Santa is making a list of all the good boys and girls and he’s checking it repeatedly in case someone had a bad afternoon and needs to be bumped to the naughty list. It can seem like innocent fun to recount this to children but often times the story goes further into a place where it feels scary and like an actual threat. “You’d better be good, Santa is watching.” is the cry of a frustrated parent this time of year. As if that wasn’t far enough many families have introduced the idea of a spy lurking and reporting back to Santa every deed good or bad. This isn’t to say that Santa and the elf are wholly bad, but like many things in life, it’s not so much about what as it is the how. We’ve all been there, tired, frustrated, at the end of our Christmas cheer and tempted, sorely tempted, to threaten a child with a loss of all their presents over the behavior they’re doing right now that you want them to stop. If you’ve been there, you know how horrible you feel after you’ve done it. So how do you prevent the situation, to begin with?
First of all, we need to discuss why the Santa threat is a problem. Besides the fact that it’s an empty threat, because you’re not really going to return all those gifts and let your child experience a Christmas with zero presents, they know it’s an empty threat. Whether they believe in Santa or not they know that they have always gotten some presents and that everyone they know has as well. This effectively makes the threshold for losing gifts so high in their mind that they will never actually believe you. Worse, if they do believe you this is needless mental anguish for them, it’s hurting their feelings and self-worth for no reason. You know you’re not going to follow through and you’re telling them you will anyway. This isn’t a trust-building action.
Aside from being an empty threat, it’s a toothless one as well. Children young enough to think Santa is really watching their every move all the time are also too young to be expected to moderate their behavior over long periods of time. Most young children have trouble making a connection between their behavior in the afternoon and their reward of dessert at dinner. They are likely incapable of actually being good for the weeks or days that it takes for Santa to follow through on skipping your house and they know it and you know it. Being good every single day for a month and then having one meltdown shouldn’t mean the loss of every Christmas present.
Additionally it doesn’t even fix the problem you’re having, because once Christmas has passed and no matter how many missteps they made they got their gifts, you’re not only in a weaker negotiation space than you were before this (which was pretty bad to begin with) but you now are expecting a child who can’t even moderate behavior for a full day to now suddenly behave for a full year perfectly? Not going to happen.
So, the threat doesn’t work now what? How can you ensure the best behavior during the holiday season or even magically year round? Well, you can’t. Kids are kids, they’re going to push boundaries, have meltdowns, make mistakes and come up with wildly horrendous ideas to try. That’s what they do! You can, however, mitigate some of the behavior related stresses of the season by following a few simple guidelines.
The holiday season is a festival of “no” for many children, and there’s a good reason a lot of the time. Between extra shiny objects being all around that aren’t safe for children to play with, and the constant bombardment of tempting toys and treats you have to say no to them sometimes, a lot of times really. However, you can prevent some harsh feelings by introducing more opportunities to say “yes”, like having a special tree for your child to play with to keep them out of the family tree with all the heirloom ornaments.
Have reasonable expectations
Being exhausted is enough to cause a lot of drama for everyone, whether it’s you that is tired or your child, or in a worst case scenario both of you, it’s never fun for anyone. Make sure that you’re all getting enough rest, and that you’re not asking too much of your child. A 3 hour Christmas concert may be just what you need to wind down, but controlling the urge to wiggle and play during that is not easy for a little one. Do what you can to make sure activities are appropriate for your child’s age and energy level.
Remember nobody is happy all the time, so you can acknowledge that your child is upset that they can’t have another cookie or that toy in the check-out line without getting angry at them or having to give in. Being understanding and offering hugs may be just enough to calm the situation down without any additional confrontations. However, if your child really is acting out inappropriately don’t hesitate to be firm about expressing dismay responsibly, a timeout may help them calm down enough to realize the error of their ways. Getting away from the sound and lights and crowds may help your child calm down and regulate themselves back into a less aggressive mood.
If you’re worried your child is turning into the kind of kid on the naughty list, be honest that this problem is not just a holiday issue and will not be solved by a holiday threat. Patience and continued support and guidance year round will be the only solution to a long-term attitude problem and making Christmas more miserable for everyone really won’t replace the long-suffering loving leadership a child needs, wants and deserves from their parents.