toddler afraid to meet Santa

How to Survive a Santa Visit When Your Child is Afraid of Santa

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Is there anything more ho-ho-horrifying for a young child than a visit to meet Santa? It usually sounds good to them in theory. They’ve been read a few stories, maybe seen a cartoon or two featuring a jolly, gift-giving guy in a red suit. He seems fun. Meeting him sounds great! Until they are face to face with some bearded, red suit wearing stranger and mom is setting them on his lap.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! No wonder they’re terrified!

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How to Enjoy a Santa Visit When Your Kid is Scared of Santa

It’s important to keep in mind the Santa visit isn’t going to make or break your child’s Christmas (or yours either). Keep it low pressure and consider these tips for a happier Santa visit with a kid who is scared of Santa.

1. Location, Location, Location

Search your community newspaper or Facebook page for places hosting Santa. If you can find a place to take your child where there will be minimal lines and few crowds you have a better shot at a Santa visit without a meltdown and a picture without tears.

In a less crowded environment, you have more time to try and calm your child down if they’re throwing a fit or upset.

And they might have a few minutes to get comfortable with Santa before being asked to sit on his lap. This can help calm Santa fears. And may even result in a smiling Christmas card worthy photo.

Santa visits can be terrifying for parents too. The Santa visit combines several things we usually try to avoid doing with our kids. This includes but is not limited to waiting in lines, going to malls and leaving the house.

My favorite place to take my kids to meet Santa is at our local historical society. We’re lucky they have a Santa there every year.

There is rarely a line. And they hand out cookies to the kids while they wait to put them in a good mood.

My point is, you probably don’t have to go to the mall. Do a little research and find a more low key setting if your child is afraid of Santa but you (or they) still want to meet him.

2. Timing is Everything

I know Santa sometimes has limited hours but if you can avoid nap time or meal time you can also avoid grumpy time during your child’s visit with Santa.

Exhaustion and hunger will likely exacerbate your child’s fears and their level of upset.

While searching for the least stressful location to take your child for a Santa visit, consider the times they have available.

Overtired or hangry kids are more terrifying than Santa Claus any day.

If you can’t avoid a meal or nap time, bring snacks to try and keep your child happy long enough to have them meet Santa.

3. Let Your Child Set the Terms

If your child is terrified of Santa and doesn’t want to sit on his lap, respect that.

Consider asking if they will sit next to him or stand by his chair. Or maybe they will feel comfortable sitting with him as long as you are in the picture too.

It’s fine to try offering some compromises to find a way your kid can be comfortable. But if it’s all a no-go, don’t push it. It’s not worth a terrified or traumatized child for one photo op.

Most kids do WANT to meet Santa. Even if they have some anxiety about it. So, see if there is a way to make your child comfortable and make meeting Santa a positive experience.

When my daughter was nervous about Santa she decided to sit next to him and hold his hand. Which was perfectly fine. And made a good picture.

I’m actually really proud of her. It’s good for kids to know how to set boundaries they’re comfortable with. So let your child set the terms.

If it’s not quite what you hoped for, there will be other years and other Santa pictures.

It Gets Better with Time

Over the last couple of years, the Santa visit has been pretty smooth.

We talk to our kids beforehand about what will happen and let them know they can decide in the moment if they want to sit on Santa’s lap or make a different choice.

Last year both kids sat on Santa’s lap without a fuss.

As kids get older and more interested in Christmas (OK, not Christmas. Gifts, they get more interested in gifts.), fear of Santa usually morphs into an eagerness to hand him their (long) wish list.

If your attempt at a visit with Santa is a disaster this year, well…there’s always next year. And there will be other ways to have fun with your kids this Christmas.

Have you dealt with a child who was afraid of Santa? How did you handle it? Share tips in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “How to Survive a Santa Visit When Your Child is Afraid of Santa”

  1. Enjoyed reading this one. Some really good advice. I love that you encourage your girls to set boundaries and that you respect them.
    I only remember a very small window when Santa was scary to Jess or you. But lets be honest, looking back those can be some of the best photos with Santa. 😉

  2. I just love your daughter’s confidence. Your best point, respect your kids boundaries! My boys, now grown, were never terrified of Santa. I’m not sure what that says about them, but let’s go with fearless and confident! But I have witnessed some horrible Santa moments in the mall as an observer.

    1. I’ve seen some horrible Santa moments too. I think it’s best to avoid scaring kids in the name of Christmas. I always think of Ralphie on A Christmas Story frozen and panicking while cranky elves and Santa pressure and yell at him. Yikes!

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