Parents Think It's Funny, But Is Sitting on Santa's Lap Actually Torture for Kids?

Parents Think It's Funny, But Is Sitting on Santa's Lap Actually Torture for Kids?

They are screaming and crying ... say cheese! 

By Marianne Garvey

Yeah, the pictures are funny … the kid is screaming, crying and squirming while sitting on Santa’s lap and ha ha ha isn’t this great and so cute?

Depends who you ask.

Jim Hoot, director of the Early Childhood Research Center in the Graduate School of Education at University of Buffalo, says being held by Santa may be too overwhelming for young children.

In a paper on the topic, he writes: "From 10 to about 17 months old, children experience severe separation anxiety and are typically scared of strangers.”

He says the kid is actually suffering while parents are trying to get a good picture, and that kids likely are seeing Santa as a "big, scary creature with a long, white beard."

"Anyone can stand at a mall this time of year and watch parents of children this age have pictures taken while the child is clearly in distress," he says.

It’s also confusing, he adds, telling our kids not to talk to strangers, while then forcing them to sit on the lap of a fat man in red pants.

Author Judy Dutton has written about the topic, saying she at first enjoyed all the social media “likes” she received, then began to feel bad about what she had done.

“I’d terrified my child, twice, in the name of … what? A funny holiday photo? The only way I’m able to forgive myself is that I’m one of millions of parents who put their kids through this ordeal. It’s holiday hazing for toddlers. Why did I do it? Perhaps because my own parents’ photo collection has a picture of me four years old, face tear-streaked, fending off a clown … Because the whole point is fun, and clearly she’s not having fun, which means my efforts aren’t for her. They’re for me. They’re so I can have fun as a parent, and indulge in a chuckle at my daughter’s expense. I’ve learned my lesson: I will never foist my daughter into Santa’s arms again. This is probably a moot point, since by next Christmas she’ll be three and a half — an age by which most kids are over their Santa-phobia and climb willingly into his lap to recite their wish list of gifts.”

Dr. Matthew Diner, a therapist who works with children in New York, tells Personal Space that in terms of Santa, when it comes to a child sitting on his lap, it can be “triggering,” so be sure to check in with the child and measure the kid’s individual experiences from a therapeutic lens.

“If a child has had bad experiences with it, or if you can observe that a child feels uncomfortable, it can turn into something that’s not pleasant,” Diner says. “I would say when there’s screaming it shows they’re uncomfortable with something. It could be a variety of things, but parents have an intuitive sense.”

He says that kids shouldn’t be pushed if they’re really having a tantrum.

“This tradition for the parent may be funny, but if the child is upset and they can’t see who this person is, it could be bringing up uncomfortable things,” he says. “It also depends on age and attachment aspect at play. Talk to your kid and try to reframe it as a picture and a few more minutes if they are old enough and can handle it, so they know there’s an end. But children who have had traumatic experiences, [those] parents should pay attention because the kids are coming to the table with a different memory.”

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