I remember when my daughter was a tot, she never felt at ease meeting Santa at the mall, much less posing for a picture. She really wasn’t comfortable around any man other than her dad. A year later, after learning about the jolly old elf from preschool and picture books, she climbed up on Santa’s lap and we got the perfect picture keepsake.
“It is completely normal for toddlers to be afraid,” notes Thomas Hobson, director of Child Life Services at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. “Santa is out of the ordinary and young children have never met a person dressed like him. Secondly, they’re being told they’re going to have to sit on this stranger’s lap. It is a recipe for a toddler disaster.”
As joyous as the holidays are, it can also be a stressful time for toddlers. Here are ways you can help.
Meeting Santa at the Mall
Thomas Hobson: Begin by introducing your child to the idea of Santa. Read a book and talk about him. Visit the mall and let your child watch to see what happens with other children. This will allow them to ask questions. You may want to visit several times to get your child comfortable.
If you’re going to have a picture done at the mall, try to find a time when lines are short and it’s relatively quiet. The extra stress of waiting in line or dealing with noise can be enough to set a child on edge.
Saying Hello to Strangers
Hobson: It is natural for toddlers to get clingy when being introduced to relative strangers. Since your toddler is seeing someone for the first time, the clingy behavior is in fact a stress response to stranger anxiety.
Try to be early for holiday get-togethers and allow your child to be introduced to people as they come. Talk with the people to demonstrate to your child this person is alright to interact with.
Spending the Night Outside of Home
Hobson: Toddlerhood is all about routines, and to throw those off can get your child out of sync. Identify the most important routines for your child, such as nap and bed times, and stick with them. Routines help your child anticipate what will happen next, and give her a sense of control over her surroundings.
Decorating Changes Home’s Familiar Feel
Hobson: People underestimate how much decorations can change a home’s appearance. Talk to your child about the decorations and include them in the process. Resist putting out old and/or breakable decorations. Being yelled at for breaking something only makes everything more confusing. I would also resist the urge to put decorations up in their room. Let this be a safe place that stays the same. This will give them somewhere to retreat.