Why is my child afraid of Santa Claus?
How can I help?

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  1. Being afraid of strangers is normal and healthy. In a child's world, they meet few people who are stranger than Santa Claus. Few people have such a massive white beard. No one else laughs, "HO HO HO!" Few people, particularly men, are "dressed all in fur, from his head to his toe." The last thing you should want to do is dull the edge of "stranger danger." The good news is that children who are afraid of Santa are less likely to be enticed and carried off by other strangers.

  2. Much of Santa's face is hidden by his beard and stocking cap, often leaving only his eyes and nose clearly visible. A child, who has not learned to love Santa, responds the same way most parents respond to a stranger in a ski mask.

  3. Santa's bright red clothing, noisy grotto environment, and the pressure of being “good” to get a present are likely to contribute to a scary experience more than partial concealment of the face. Stephanie Lay, psychologist and postdoctoral researcher.

  4. Don’t avoid Santa Claus completely. Instead, introduce your child slowly. If you shield your child too much, you might prevent him from learning how to face his fears and eventually overcome them, Stephen Garber, PhD, founder of The Behavioral Institute of Atlanta.

  5. Although it may be tempting to try to reassure an anxious child by revealing the secret, this revelation may not be sufficient to quell his fears and it may also compromise future Santa-related Christmas magic. Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medial Center of New York.

  6. Don't drop a crying child on Santa's knee and back away quickly hoping for a quick, decent picture. The pained expression and outstretched arms are not cute. You'll not only likely wind up with a disappointing photo, but pushing the issue can potentially cause some psychological harm to your child. Andrew Adesman, MD. The trauma may last until next year. Do it right this year.

  7. If you want to try getting pictures at a mall, take your child by Santa Claus several times in advance.

  8. Stand and watch Santa from a distance. Be happy to see him. Watch other children interact enthusiastically. See how close you can get with your child being comfortable. If your child becomes tense, back up to a comfortable distance and watch some more.

  9. Leave and come back to see if you can get closer. Wave to Santa and encourage your child to wave. When it is time to approach Santa for a picture, don’t rush. Give Santa a "high 5" and encourage your child to do the same. For children who will not be soothed enough to sit on his knee this year, the "high 5" may be the best picture you can get. It is certainly cuter than a terrified picture on the knee.

  10. Santa Claus gets a high 5

  11. If you invite Santa to you home, one option is scheduling one or more video chats to let your child become accustomed to him virtually before meeting personally.

  12. If a child will not be soothed, even in your own home, an unconventional photo is still possible. Set the child alone in a large chair with a toy. Santa can sneak up behind the chair, peek over it, and pose for the photo with the unsuspecting child. (It is unlikely the mall Santa will have time to try this.)

Parents cherish photos of their children with Santa Claus. Children cherish safety.

Santa does not want to traumatize the little ones. Neither do parents, but it is a perplexing, sad irony that the same guardian who comforts a child during a thunderstorm will drop a screaming child on Santa's knee and hope for the best. Be understanding and patient.


Ultimately, the name of the game is to help your child overcome the fear with practice, practice, and more practice. Lewis First, MD, Chief of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the University of Vermont Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, MD College of Medicine.


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