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Holidays, Parenthood

December 4, 2023

What do Santa and the Elf of the Shelf have to do with Parenting?

I’ve seen mixed reviews on the jolly guy in recent years and I wanted to weigh in.

The biggest conflict I have heard is between “I don’t want to lie to my children” and “I don’t want my children to miss out on the Christmas spirit”.

Both are valid concerns.

When we decide what traditions to implement, there are many things to consider:

Our religious beliefs also play a role in how we view the holiday traditions.

Our personal experiences effect what traditions we find important.

Our friends and family have an impact on our traditions.

Our partner’s experiences are considered when we decide what to include in our family traditions.

All of these things lead us to decide what is best for our family. There is no right answer in how you approach these traditions.

So what do these traditions have to do with parenting?

Listen to the song “Santa Claus is coming to town” as a parent. It feels icky to me, “you better watch out” “you better not cry”.

The song uses fear to encourage obedience in our children. We know that fear is motivating but does not create meaningful connection.

More effective parenting comes from connection with our children. Talking to them and understanding their needs. Setting boundaries that keep them safe and healthy.

Children often act out more during the holiday season because their routines are all out of order and they are overstimulated by the lights and people around them.

When we realize this and address their needs accordingly, we don’t need to use fear.

We can also note what labeling kids as naughty or nice can do. When we expect our children to act out, we can accidentally reinforce that behavior.

It is more effective to talk about CHOICES as good vs. bad than to talk about people as being fundamentally good or bad. 

To be clear: I am not saying we need to do away with these traditions entirely. He can be a part of your traditions without instilling fear. He can also be a part of our traditions without lying to our children.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year and many fond memories involve waiting for Santa.

We have decided to include Santa and the Elf on the Shelf as traditions that help to spread holiday cheer! These characters are helping us prepare for Christmas, not watching to see if you have been naughty or nice.

Likewise, if we consider the Elf and Santa as characters, we can understand how children would perceive them as real. Much like watching a movie about a princess or a pirate, we encourage our children’s imagination and pretend play.

When they start to ask questions about the validity of these Magical Christmas characters, you can guide them to identify for themselves if they believe they are real. You can then share with them how these characters help to spread Christmas cheer and how they can be a part of that for others.

If you do decide not to have Santa be a part of your Christmas traditions, it can feel important to ask your children to lie to other children or to not talk about Santa to other children. This is a HUGE responsibility.

A solution to this is to encourage your children to be curious about other people’s beliefs, experiences, and traditions all year long. This will give you the framework to explain that Santa is something other children believe in and it is okay to have different beliefs.

If this all feels like a lot, you aren’t sure what the right answer is for your family. You want to be sure your children have a good childhood but you don’t want to harm them.

A good place to start is to check-in with yourself. How do you feel about the holidays and the traditions you currently have? What are your religious beliefs and how do you incorporate those into your traditions? Is there anything about your childhood that you need to heal from?

You don’t have to explore these questions alone! Reach out.