Expert slams parents who insist on taking pictures with Santa even when their kids are crying
Disclaimer: I am not a big fan of whole Santa's Grotto debacle.
And not because I am in any way Grinch-like – in fact; I love Christmas and the festive season more than most. No, it's more because when it comes to Santa, I reckon in order to keep the magic alive, the less we actually see of him, the better. I mean; I remember when my little girl first started asking how he could be in every shopping centre, having arrived at Dundrum Town Centre one December when she was three – having just spotted him at the Whitewater Centre in Newbridge the previous day.
So this is the age I explained to her that these Santa visit places, they are just like mini amusement experiences, and the Santas aren't the real Santa – because he is too busy at the North Pole to manage to be at every shopping centre up and down the land.
And let's face it – for little kids, actually coming face-to-face with Santa can actually be more scary than anything else. And yet still, many parents are keen for the obligatory Santa visit snap – no matter what way their kids feel about it.
But if Santa creates more tears than joy for your tots, it might not be best idea to try and force the situation. Or so says parenting expert Dr. Jason Coulson, who's urging parents to rethink making their kids sit on Santa's lap—especially if they are hesitant or upset—because it might change how they understand consent.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Coulson, who has a Ph.D. in psychology, explains: "If a child is distressed or non-consenting, then it's disrespectful and it can even be bullying to force a child to sit on a stranger's lap for a photograph."
Even if that stranger is dressed like the kid-friendly Santa Claus, he argues.
In a separate interview with Australian parenting website, Mamamia, Coulson explained: “Parents have got to stop bullying their children. It’s using their power to force their child into an uncomfortable situation that just makes them feel awful."
And while many might think it will be cute in years to come, to look back at photos of your child's first Santa visit, and might even chuckle a little when they see the snap of their child's displeased reaction to Father Christmas, Coulson argues that this is no laughing matter.
He explained that it shouldn't be hard for parents to immediately recognize how messed up the whole situation is, and he scolds them for putting their kids in that position. "I don’t know where we get the idea from that seeing our kids suffer and experience fear and anxiety is funny," he explained. "Any thinking, empathic parent is going to recognize that this is a stressful situation for some children and there is absolutely no benefit to it.”
Because when it comes down to it, Coulson argues that children need to understand consent—and there shouldn't be an exception for the holidays.
"Parents who consistently disregard their children's fears, anxieties and feelings rob their children of agency," he said. "They increase the likelihood that their child will feel as if he or she doesn't matter or belong, and they run the risk that this type of consistent behavior will lead to genuine long-term psychological challenges."
One of those challenges is your child's understanding of consent.
“We make a really big deal about teaching our children about body boundaries, about body safety and about consent. And all of a sudden, we make this bizarre exception for a stranger in a red suit in a shopping center," he reasoned.
If parents want to get their perfect Santa photo, there's still a way to keep kids feeling safe. Coulson told Mamamia that if parents want to try to make everyone happy, “Get Mom and Dad, or Mom and Mom, to sit in the photo with the child, and the child is on the parent’s or the caregiver’s lap. That’s one way to make it a positive experience for everybody.”