Why I’ll never force my kid to sit on Santa’s lap

I recently found photos of myself as a child sitting on Santa’s lap, each showing a different level of comfort or, in some cases, discomfort. I look uncertain in many of the photos. I don’t remember if, as a child, I wanted to sit on Santa’s lap or if I did it because I thought it was expected of me.

My daughter’s photos with Santa Claus tell a very different story. Other than a photo of her as 16-month-old sitting on Mrs. Claus’ lap (Santa was there, too), she is standing next to Santa in most of the photos — but is never on his lap.

Most parents seem to insist their child take a photo on Santa’s lap with no regard for whether their terrified child is willing to pose with Santa or not. I’ve seen my share of screaming children being cajoled to sit on Santa’s lap, even just for a minute, all in the name of capturing a holiday photo.

When she was younger I would take my now 13-year-old daughter to see Santa each year, but I never felt compelled to make her climb up on his lap like the other kids. If she had told me she didn’t want to go see him or if she had cried once we got there, it would have been fine with skipping the visit that year.

I admit I never forced my daughter to sit on Santa’s lap because when I was a 20-something newspaper reporter one of my assignments was to observe the local Santa Claus and write a feature article about his exchanges with the children. For some reason, what I observed just didn’t sit right with me.

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During one of Santa’s odd exchanges with a 5-year-old girl, Santa suggested to the toddler that perhaps he should bring her makeup and high heel shoes. I remember looking at the girl’s mother for signs of discomfort but her mother was probably too busy snapping photos to hear the conversation. There were other exchanges that day that set off alarm bells in my head but since none of the parents seemed to notice, and I wasn’t a parent myself at the time, I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Back at the newspaper office, my editor asked me about my visit with Santa. I told him I thought Santa was a creep, explained why and asked if I should do some digging to see if I could find anything odd in the guy’s background. My editor told me to stick with the feature story I was supposed to write and reminded me that I had only an hour to file the story.

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Fast-forward about three months from that day. The cops reporter, who had overhead my conversation with the editor about Santa, stops by my desk to tell me that the same guy who played Santa was arrested for child molestation.

That incident taught me two things:

  • Always trust your gut.
  • Never force your child to sit on Santa’s lap

Now I’m not saying that every Santa is a creep. I am sure 99.9 percent of all men who portray Santa Claus are upstanding citizens. After all, shopping malls and other venues that offer visits with Santa have pretty rigorous background checks for Mr. Claus and his helpers.

But even with a well-regarded Santa, we need to be mindful of our kids and how they might feel about sitting on Santa’s lap, or even visiting Santa. And we need to accept that standing next to Santa or kneeling in front of him is perfectly acceptable.

Isn’t a child who looks comfortable standing next to Santa going to take a better photo than child who looks uncertain or downright miserable on Santa’s lap?

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One of my most cherished memories of my daughter visiting Santa was at our local nature center. Each family was given five minutes to visit with Mr. Claus and his helpers in a log cabin. Chairs were set up next the fireplace and family members were invited to sit on a chair and visit with Santa.

The photo I have from this visit is adorable. It shows my daughter and Santa sitting next to each other fully engaged in conversation. I can’t think of anything more enchanting than my daughter sitting around the fire with Santa and his helpers and talking about the North Pole.

I’m glad I never forced my daughter to sit on Santa’s lap. All her memories of visiting Santa are pleasant and she is genuinely happy in all our photos with Santa. If your kid is screaming, “No Santa, No Santa!” or just seems unhappy about having to sit on Santa’s lap, give yourself and them a break.

Suggest they stand next to, or in front of, Santa. And, if that doesn’t cheer them up, then maybe you should skip a visit to Santa this year.

After all, who wants to share or display a photo of their kid looking incredibly uncomfortable with Santa just to have that holiday moment?