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Scary Santa

Posted Nov 20, 2008 by Donna Koehn

Updated Nov 20, 2008 at 03:10 PM

If my 15-month-daughter had been able to dial out on her toy phone, she would have called the authorities on us.

In the span of one day, we put her on the lap of a terrifying stranger, then drove her through the growling, tentacle-flapping automatic car wash. Rookie mistakes.

The year before, when she was just a few months old, she was oblivious of the horror of Santa, making for a perfect snap for our “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament. We were not expecting the meltdown one year later.

According to the experts, stranger anxiety starts between 8 and 9 months of age, and hits its peak at 12 to 15 months.

From parenting blogs and experts’ tips, here are some suggestions for how to handle this emotion-fraught meeting.

* Prepare by reading picture books about Santa and watching Santa-themed videos. (Hint: Avoid Billy Bob Thornton versions.)

* Try to go at non-peak times. Waiting in a long line is miserable for little ones—and their parents and grandparents.

* Don’t visit the mall Santa after shopping for two hours. Nobody will have the patience.

* Even if the little reindeer sweater or peppermint-striped tights are precious, keep in mind that Florida’s heat could turn them into a scratchy torture.

* If your child seems terrified, it might work to join him or her on Santa’s lap. But don’t count on it.

* Don’t push. If your toddler starts to freak out, it probably isn’t going to get better. You might be better off trying again next year. By then, children get the idea that Santa equals gifts and realize a little sucking up won’t hurt.

We’ve borrowed an idea from the Tribune Co. this year and are inviting families to submit photos of their own scary Santa moments.  Check the link for instructions.


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