(this article originally appears in the 12/6/11 edition of The Daily Review Atlas) If a child tells a fib in February we put them in time out. If he hits his brother in July we might send him to his room but if they misbehave in December we tell them Santa will take away their presents. You know, Santa! The big, fat, friendly stranger who lives up north and promises to sneak in your house while you’re sleeping to deliver a sleigh full of treasures to all the good little boys and girls.
Does anybody else see the irony here? In order to coax good behavior from our children we participate in one of the year's biggest hoaxes.
You'd think I have something against the big man in a red suit. I assure you I don't. We have stockings and wish lists and a plate full of cookies every Christmas Eve. What I have difficulty with is parents who use Santa as their convenient, seasonal form of parenting discipline.
You see, just last week we were enjoying some Christmas music on the radio when my seven year old asked me if "Santa really brings more presents to the good boys and girls?”
Sensing an imminent land mine if I didn't answer with care I answered her question with a, a-hem, safe question, “What do you think?"
Without missing a beat she quipped, "Well I know it's not true because me and my brothers always get the same amount of gifts!"
In other words, in her humble opinion, she's completely better behaved than her siblings and her present pile has never been bigger than her sibling’s! Clever girl!
I think we must be very cautious in how we keep the tradition of Santa alive. If we're not careful we can diminish the most wonderful time of the year down to a delivery service. Santa's not the UPS guy leaving you packages only when you keep up your part of the transaction. The tradition of St. Nicolas teaches us that he is a caring soul who wants to make sure that all the boys and girls have a special toy on Christmas morning despite Burl Ives classic rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town". Sometimes we pout, shout and cry. We try not to but it happens. And Santa will still come. He’s not the behavior police for goodness sakes.
Listen, there's nothing wrong with telling children that Santa is watching for good boys and girls until it becomes a threat. Unless you're really, seriously prepared to withhold gifts this holiday season you may want to be careful to threaten to do so.
This is the same advice parenting expert’s give all year long. Your good word and consistency are the keys to parenting misbehaving children. Otherwise we teach our children that we really don't mean what we say.
In general, when dishing out consequences for children's bad behavior you must be prepared to follow through with what you say. If you say you won’t buy your child a toy at the store then you had better not. What this means is parents must really need to think through what they are about to say before they speak. This is really hard to do when in the throes of parenting!
Sometimes we’re tempted to threaten to take away what is most valuable to our children when disciplining our children, myself included. And since it’s December, nothing is more valuable to a young child right now than a tree full of gifts on Christmas morn.
But if you can't follow through on your threat or if you are unwilling to take the time to do what you say you’re not actually disciplining. You’re simply teaching children that your word is no good and their consequences depend more on your mood and memory than their behavior.
Let's be careful not to treat Santa as our personal enforcer. If your child misbehaves (and they will) this holiday season stick to your regular discipline routine. Consistency is the key in raising children. Let's let Santa be the gift giver and not the gift withholder this holiday season. After all, it's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year - even for our children. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so! That's why!
Stephanie is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville school district. She is the mother of five sometimes naughty, sometimes nice children and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org