It’s a perennial holiday tradition for children to pose for photos with Santa, and while many relish the chance for face time with the man in red, other little ones may feel shy, nervous, anxious and even teary-eyed when the moment arrives.
Martin Antony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto, said he doesn’t think it’s specifically Santa that’s the issue. For many children, it’s probably any kind of costumed character that may stir feelings of fear or unease, like seeing clowns or having an oversized Mickey Mouse at Disney World wanting to shake hands.
Also, some kids are just generally anxious in situations that are out of the ordinary, said Antony, author of The Anti-Anxiety Workbook.
Antony, who is also director of research at the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said there are a few things parents can do to help kids prepare to meet Santa.
He suggests helping the child reframe the situation to think about it differently by telling them Santa will be friendly, their parent will be present and that other kids will be around doing the same thing. Having children watch scenes from movies with other kids sitting on Santa’s lap and even having children observe other kids doing the same in person could be useful, he noted.
Santa can also do his part to help put kids at ease. Jennifer Andrews is owner of the Calgary-based Santa School, which provides professional training to beginner and experienced Santas. She said ensuring children are comfortable and have a good experience is of paramount importance.
“If the child is upset about sitting on Santa’s knee, we don’t ever force that,” she said.