Oh you better watch out… and I’m not talking about being naughty or nice. I’m talking about raising kids. Is Santa helping or hindering your parenting goals? Is Santa over-stepping his bounds? Is Santa shooting you in the foot?
Ever since having kids I have wondered how to work the whole Santa thing.
Here are a few values I want to instill in my kids that Santa just may be thwarting:
Am I the only one who feels bad about fibbing to my kids about Santa (or the Tooth Fairy, for that matter)? When possible, I try to answer their questions truthfully by saying “I don’t know… I’ve never actually seen Santa” rather than build up this make-believe fellow. Still, I feel bad intentionally deceiving them.
- By fibbing to our kids about Santa are we teaching them that honesty isn’t important?
Faith and Trust
What about when they find out the truth? Will they second-guess everything else I have taught them? I don’t remember when I found out about Santa, but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t one to doubt other things my parents told me. Some children find it more traumatic and begin to question other supposed truths their parents taught.
There is a fine line between fact and fiction in young children. My 4-year-old is at a stage where he often asks if things are real. The other day he asked me if the Backyardigans were real. After we read the scriptures together they will ask if what we read is true. I don’t want my children to doubt the reality of Jesus later because they find out we were fooling them about Santa.
- Will we lose the trust of our children and the faith we try to instill in them by lying about Santa?
I have never liked the notion of Christmas (or birthday) wishlists. If someone wants to get me a gift, I want it to come from the heart. I don’t want someone to just cross something off my list. I like surprises and I am genuinely touched when someone gets or makes me something they think I will like.
Making a list of gift options for the giver creates a certain level of expectation. By asking what a child wants, the giver gives the impression that he will give the child what the child wants. When children expect to get what is on their list, they are disappointed if they don’t get everything they want instead of being grateful for what they do get.
Spoiling children with too many gifts falls in this category as well. When we regularly bury our children in presents, we set the expectation high. When future Christmases fail to meet the precedent, children may be disappointed and ungrateful.
We all tell our kids to say “thank you” after receiving a gift, but being gracious and having gratitude are more than a “thank you” reflex.
- Does asking for presents from Santa spoil our kids and make them less grateful?
Generosity and Selflessness
At Christmas time and throughout their lives, I want my kids to have their hearts directed outward, thinking of others first. I hope that they will, even at their young age, be more excited about what they are giving, than what they are getting.
While the idea of Santa, a man flying around giving free gifts to all, is generous and selfless, he doesn’t promote the generosity or selflessness of others. I have never known Santa to ask “What would you like to give your brother for Christmas?” Instead he just wants us to talk about our own desires.
I have never asked my children what they want for Christmas or their birthdays. I figure it is my job to know them well enough to know what would make them smile. I don’t appreciate that the man in the big red suit keeps focusing their attention on themselves.
- Is Santa causing our children to be too focused on themselves?
Being good for the right reasons
We better be good because Santa Claus is coming to town. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good.” The song says it all. Never mind behaving the other 11 months of the year. Never mind being good and obeying because it’s the right thing to do. Just be good so you’ll get lots of presents.
Of course there is the classic threat of getting coal in your stocking, but I’m pretty sure most parents wouldn’t follow through with that.
- Are we teaching our children to only be good when there is a sizable reward at stake?
What we do
Our kids learned about the logistics of Santa from their friends before we had decided exactly what to do about Old Saint Nick. We have played along minimally. They learn the classic Santa songs and know that he brings gifts. We usually let Santa claim the gifts that we leave unwrapped, though we haven’t always been clear about that. The kids know that Santa isn’t a skilled seamstress like Mommy though, so it’s pretty obvious which things Santa did not bring.
What we don’t do
We have never taken our kids to the mall or department store to sit on Santa’s lap or get a picture with Santa. You’ve all seen the obligatory pictures of terrified kids screaming on Santa’s lap. When else would you let an old man you don’t know and can’t see for his disguise, hold your terrified, screaming child on his lap while you laugh and take pictures?
Actually the main reason we don’t do the sit-on-Santa’s lap tradition is because we don’t want them to get in the habit of focusing on their wants and wishlists. We don’t have our kids write letters to put in their requests to Santa.
We don’t overdo it with the presents. I love the saying “Something you want, Something you need, Something to wear and Something to read.” Of course I define “want” as something the giver thinks the child would like, rather than what the child saw in the commercials and has been begging for all month. It’s fine to give “needs” as presents. We are also fine with new-to-them presents. There is nothing wrong with picking up gifts secondhand.
We don’t use Santa as a threat. It’s tempting sometimes to say “You better be good or else” or “Santa’s watching” or “Are you being naughty or nice?”. We want our kids to be “nice” and good for the right reason, not for a threat that we likely wouldn’t follow through with anyway.
I don’t think there is one universal right way to incorporate Santa into our Christmas traditions, but you might want to check your list twice before you put on your red suit and black boots this Christmas.
- What do you think? Is Santa shooting YOU in the foot?
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