While most children are thrilled by the approach of Christmas, some parents have mixed feelings.
Parents increasingly express discomfort about how children can receive lots of presents, but that the act of gift-giving itself is not valued and seems to lack a sense of any deeper meaning.
To address this I suggest that from the age of two children be encouraged to participate in present giving.
They might make a card for their brother, help make biscuits for their aunty or put a bow on a present for the neighbours.
These kinds of activities let children know that Christmas isn’t only about ‘getting stuff’. By modelling gift-giving and experiencing the emotions around the act of gift-giving – love, affection, appreciation and gratitude – children will find Christmas a richer experience. They can create a narrative of Christmas as a time to make other people happy.
By taking part kids learn how to give and how others receive. They are actively involved and can share some responsibility for the Christmas ritual instead of just passively receiving.
So what’s not to like about a fat, jolly man in a red suit who gives presents?
Well the likelihood of being scared of Santa is very high in all young children because, from early on, they fear new people. It is a universal phenomenon.
In a sense, the scariest thing about Santa is that children have a very strong idea of Santa so their usual wariness in the presence of a stranger is overridden by this familiarity and expectation. But suddenly, deep in the situation, they realise they are sitting on the lap of a real person, a stranger, and can experience genuine distress.
I wouldn’t suggest trying to prepare your child for this. You might just increase their confusion or anxiety. Children are always balancing wariness and curiosity and although this is true of a Santa encounter it is a rare event. Just stay attuned to the signals your child is sending you.
Some parents dread the chaos and potential family tension of Christmas holidays but for children spending unstructured time with their parents and extended family can be the best part of Christmas.
Kids can be extremely understanding of competing claims on your time as long as they believe you want to be with them. So when you have free time and choose to spend it with them that decision is very powerful.
Belonging to a family is a very important aspect of children’s identity and spending time with wider family can reinforce their sense of love and connectedness. Of course if being with wider family involves an unacceptable degree of tension or conflict that needs to be taken into account.
So take a deep breath and have a fantastic Christmas with the kids.