Just because I kicked Santa to the curb doesn't mean I think it's right for everyone. I think there's a way to do Santa that doesn't betray you and your child's relationship and values.
Here's my thoughts on how to do that.
Be Careful With Their Trust and Your Truthfulness
Don't preach Santa. It's not needed. The kids will hear lots about it from their friends.
Don't discourage questioning. Thinking through and questioning things is an important part of development.
Don't fight the truth. If they figure it out, if they say "this just can't be true," then concede the jig is up. Doubling down makes you doubly untrustworthy. It models fighting for a lie.
Be the one who tells them. When there's an important question, when it's unclear what's right and true, teach them that you are the one they trust to be truthful.
Don't lie. There's a way to keep the kids guessing without lying. A few phrases:
- What do you think?
- That IS hard to believe.
- I'm not going to tell you. It's up to you to figure out.
- What are your friends saying?
You get the idea, be dodgy. Respond with questions. Help them talk and work through it. Always have qualifiers like "maybe... it could be... I wonder if... "
Encourage Their Discernment and Body Boundaries
Tell them you appreciate their insights and questioning. Remind them that it's good not to just take everything at face value and that they shouldn't always trust whatever their friends say.
Don't force them to sit on Santa's lap. Offer to let them stand beside him or avoid Santa all together.
Affirm their personal boundaries. Tell them you are proud of them for speaking up about not wanting to sit on Santa's lap. Tell them they never have to accept unwanted touch in order to get presents.
Foster Gratitude and Contentment
I still like the idea of Santa only giving small gifts leaving the good stuff to be from friends and family. I think it makes a better opportunity for gratitude. You can say or write thank yous to people you know and see.
Don't trigger discontentment by putting a lot of emphasis on their "Christmas list." Bring it up one time, if you must, take notes and drop it. If you're unsure what to get I've found that fun family activities are an awesome gift. One year we asked all our family to contribute towards Disneyland tickets instead of sending physical presents. It was awesome. Last year a good friend bought us a family membership to a museum.
Give them no more than 3 presents. Downplaying the Christmas list helps with how this turns out. I know that may sound crazy to some of you, but consider that they are likely to get presents from many aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. My kids have yet to complain that they didn't get enough presents. Last year I spent $20 per kid, this year I went all out and spent $30 per kid.
Clear out your stuff. Before or after presents make sure that you keep the same amount or less space allotted for their possessions. Emphasize that they have plenty to share with those who would have a lot of fun with the toys they no longer want.
Differentiate presents from rewards. If you want to keep the reward aspect, spell it out. Perhaps Santa gives gifts because he is kind and generous, but likes to gives extra rewards to those who their best to do good.
If you do let Santa have all the credit, then credit the kind of character you value. Say something like "Someone traveling around the world to bring presents? Sounds like a lot of work. I think it would take a very generous and kind person to that." Point out the thoughtfulness and effort family and friends went to in order to give.
Tell the origin story of Saint Nicholas and his concern for the poor.
Help them to buy gifts for others - friends, family, and especially the needy. Focus on how giving to them might make their lives more joyful.
Build Authenticity and Integrity
Don't use Santa to manipulate your kids, especially if that means keeping them from expressing their feelings. If they "better not cry" does that mean it's not OK to feel sad? Does not crying make sadness go away? Encourage them to be who they are and to express what they feel in healthy and acceptable ways.
Drop the gestapo elf and spy Santa. If you want your kids to have integrity, they need to find the value of doing what's right because it's right. This is part of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is more powerful and long-lasting than extrinsic (rewards). Manipulating them to get them to behave can make our lives as parents easier in the short term, but in the long term risks making them into hypocrites.
If building a faith in Christ is important to your family, then show it. Talk more about Jesus than you do anything else during the holiday season. Tell them how Jesus is better than Santa.
Whatever you do, be mindful of the impact of your words and actions.
Next post I'll cover how to make magic without our modern Santa Clause.