When Santa is Scary, Advice from a Therapist

Special Needs Parenting

Editor’s Note: This post is from 2015 and was written by Clinical Director of Pediatric Interactions and Speech-Language Pathologist, Sarah Rosten; all thoughts and opinions belong to her. We have updated it to reflect current information on events.  

child scared of santa

When your Child is Scared of Santa

The holidays are supposed to be magical times, not dreaded for parents or children. A visit to Santa can be very scary for some kids, not to mention the challenges of waiting in line and the other commotion that is happening at the event.  Sometimes you end up with pictures and experiences like this….

child scared of santa
Photo provided by Pediatric Interactions

Many local park districts also have Santa events that may be less crowded and not as time-pressured as the few minutes you have to get your child on his lap and take a photo with hundreds of people behind you.

Some Santas will make house calls; your child may be most comfortable meeting this jolly old man in his or her own home. 

child scared of santa
Photo provided by Pediatric Interactions

Tips for Visiting Santa if your Child is Scared

Before you see the man in the red suit, there are a few things you can do to help your child get ready for the experience.

  • Read books or watch movies with Santa and talk about going to see him.
  • Write a “social story” which will tell your child what’s going to happen; adding some emotion will help them to work through what they may experience. Draw pictures together with your child and review it several times before. Here’s an example:
    • Mommy, daddy and you will drive to the mall.
    • We’ll wait in line with a lot of other excited kids. It may be hard to wait. Give some specific examples of what they can do while waiting (e.g., play “I Spy…,” sing songs, count the number of hats you see, etc.)
    • When we get closer you will see Santa. You know what he looks like (describe). He may also have helpers (maybe they are elves.).
    • When it’s your turn, you can walk to Santa. You may want to sit on his lap or just walk close to him.
    • He may ask you what you want for Christmas. You can tell him (give your child some ideas beforehand.) You can also give him a note if you don’t feel like talking (write down your child’s gift ideas ahead of time.)
    • The helpers may want to take pictures, smile and say “cheese.”
    • When we are done, we will ________(let your child know what’s happening next.)
  • As suggested in the story, write down your child’s request, so they can still “tell” Santa even if they don’t feel like talking to him. You can also write specific instructions for Santa such a “please ask my child yes/no questions.”

Overall, remember you and your child are building memories. Parents should know some of the best memories aren’t those we planned.

child scared of santa
Photo provided by Pediatric Interactions

Find special events for special needs including special needs Santa events in our December Special Needs Calendar.

Is your child scared of Santa? What’s worked for you? Share it with us in the comments!

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