People can have strong feelings about the Santa Story, so I’ll lay out my own thoughts here to set the stage for the cautionary tale that follows.
For me, Santa means magic. The details are unimportant, as are the mechanics. For the Littles, it’s the person who comes down the chimney and magically delivers their gifts. For the Bigs, it describes the feeling you have when you see a perfect gift for someone and get it for them. We call that “seeing Santa” at our house; as in, “I saw Santa today and he whispered to me about you!” For the Middles, it’s that feeling of “I’m pretty sure Santa is my parents, but I’m still hedging my bets just in case”.
When my daughter was 3 years old, she started to become aware of our family holiday traditions. She noticed the preparations that were happening around Christmastime: the tree, the festive mood… and Santa.
She had LOTS of questions about Santa. Who is he? Where does he live? What does he do? Why? (Always why!)
The night before Christmas Eve, as she was going to bed, something completely unexpected happened. As I was telling her that Santa was going to come down the chimney and bring her presents the next night, she wailed,
“NOOOOOOO! I don’t want him to come into my house!”
I was taken aback. And then realized: it’s a fair point.
It is actually a little creepy to think that a man whom you’ve never met is going to slide down the chimney into your house. Never mind the presents.
As a parent, I had a choice to make at that moment. Here are the possible ways the conversation could have gone:
- Push the narrative. “But honey, Santa’s really nice and there’s nothing to be afraid of and he’ll bring you so many presents and he can’t do that if he doesn’t come inside and and and…..”
But you can see where this would end up right? By negating her perspective, I would have created a Battle of Wills and a Hot Mess of a Terrified Child. Never mind that the perceived threat wasn’t real. The threat was REAL TO HER.
- Have the “Santa isn’t real” talk with a three year old.
I have never felt the need to have the “Santa isn’t real” talk with anyone. When you figure it out, you figure it out and it’s no less magical once you do because you realize that it was a feeling all along. So, that was a Hard Pass for me.
- Validate the fear and accommodate it. “OH! I hear that you do NOT want Santa to come into the house! I will tell him that you don’t want him to come in and I will get the presents and bring them inside so that he doesn’t have to”.
For those of you who are saying, “but that’s not how that works”, guess what people?! IT’S ALL MADE UP ANYWAY!
And guess what else? This whole story is not actually about Santa at all. It’s about validating and accommodating our kids when their nervous system alerts them to a perceived threat. Any response that validated her experience first would have “worked” here.
And remember – family traditions exist because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done things’, but also:
If it’s not fun, it’s not fun (so make a change. You’re allowed!)