Easing child’s fear of Santa Claus and other characters

Santa surrounded by children

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
when all through the mall,
Children were wailing,
not one, but all.

We have all been there. You take your children to visit the jolly old man, and your child sits on his lap to take a family photo. Suddenly, the tears let loose, and all you have left is a distraught child and a picture to relive the memory forever.

When first meeting their favorite characters, children of all ages can express anxiety or fear of Santa Claus, Minnie Mouse at Disneyland or SpongeBob at a fellow child’s birthday party. The fear of ruining the experience or causing a scene also resides with the parent.

Dr. Russell Horton, DO, a Banner Health pediatrician, shares some tips on what parents can do to make meeting a child’s favorite characters a great experience for everyone involved.

Before the visit

  • Talk to your child and let them know exactly what will happen and what they can expect when they visit. Is there a line to wait in or do the two of you need to approach the character?
  • Visit the site ahead of time and scope out the area. Are there elves standing with Santa or life-sized bunnies with the Easter Bunny?
  • Be Santa’s No. 1 cheerleader. Speak to your child about how Santa Claus or other characters make children happy and create positive memories. Watch age-appropriate movies or read books that express how Santa Claus shares holiday cheer or how Minnie and Mickey Mouse encourage fun and adventure.
  • Block out enough time and take it slow. Rushing can put anyone on edge. Seeing an older sibling, friend or other children approach and interact with the character might help ease their fears.

If and when a meltdown occurs

  • Don’t keep pushing it. It’s important to realize that this might not be the right time or year for your little one to meet Santa or Goofy. You can take your child do to something else and take her mind off of it and come back, or decide that next year you all will try for the family photo.
  • Never punish or make a child feel bad about any fear that he or she may have. Lines like “you’re being silly” or “no dessert if you don’t smile for the picture” make children feel like they have done something wrong and do not allow them to express their emotions of anxiety and stress.
  • Remember, it is just a picture. Ultimately, it is not a big deal. It’s more important to acknowledge that your child is feeling scared.

Always remember to keep the magic alive! During the tear blotting and crying, you might be inclined to leak that Santa Claus or other characters are not real, but refrain. Revealing the secret may compromise future Santa activities and holiday or theme park magic. Treat the day as a fun and light-hearted experience.

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