Taking a photo with Santa is a cherished Christmas tradition – for some kids. For kids who are anxious, easily overstimulated, impulsive or deal with other social and behavioral challenges, sitting on a costumed stranger's lap and being stared at by a crowd and photographer is deeply unpleasant or scary. Before deciding whether or not to join the mall Santa's line, ask yourself a few questions.
Is There a Low-Stress Option?
Some malls and other places that host Santa photo ops now offer "quiet Santa" experiences specifically for kids who would be uncomfortable visiting Santa during normal hours. Families that include children with sensory disorders, developmental delays or behavioral issues can have a much more calm and soothing visit with a Santa who is prepared to greet kids with those issues. (And if that's not currently an option in your area, contact the Santa organizers to push for it to happen next year!)
Does My Child Know What to Expect?
Springing a surprise Santa visit on a child with sensory or social issues could be disastrous. Before considering a trip to the mall, read stories like "The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear" that show kids what the process is like. Talk about what Santa will look like and give a step-by-step description of what happens during Santa photos. ("First all the kids wait in a line that might be kind of noisy, and Santa will have a bright red suit and a big white beard, and when it's your turn....")
What Does My Child Think?
If your child is old enough and communicative enough to answer questions, get his input. On the day that you'd like to take the photos, reread any stories you've found about visiting Santa and ask your child whether he feels like he wants to try it today.
Do I Have a Backup Plan?
You know your child better than anyone, so make an appropriate plan B before going to see Santa – and share it with your child. If she starts getting too upset or overwhelmed in the line, let her know that you'll leave and go to the library, or to a different part of the mall, or wherever she feels comfortable. Bring noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, snacks and other security/comfort items to soothe her during the process.