“He told me, ‘I don’t want to sit on his lap this year. I just want to be able to tell him something,’” said Criado, an associate with A New Pediatric Psychology in San Antonio.
Which is why Criado and other experts stress it’s important to remind children that Santa Claus is still coming to town. He’s just making some adjustments like the rest of us.
“We need that hope and that distraction kind of more than ever,” Criado said. “But I think you can do it in ways that kind of validate your child’s need for Christmas and Santa and validate any fears they may have. Just being creative and finding new ways to do things.”
Here are some ways to to soothe your child’s Santa anxiety.
Start by listening: So how do we talk about Santa during a pandemic? Start by following the big guy’s lead and listen.
“It is very important to use active listening skills to follow your child’s lead on what their needs are,” Criado said. “As they’re talking about it, you want to reflect and validate their feelings. And you can do that by saying their feelings back to them, or saying, ‘I worry about those things, too,’ or ‘A lot of kids might be wondering that.’”
Take your child seriously. It’s natural for children to project anxieties they may feel about the pandemic with questions or concerns about Santa. Acknowledging those fears can help your kids face them and overcome them.
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Remind kids that Santa is magic: Santa has shimmied down millions of chimneys in a single night without ever taking a sick day. So take it from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert: Mr. Claus is too tough for COVID-19.
“Santa is exempt from this because Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of good innate immunity,” Fauci recently told USA TODAY.
Skip the mall Santa: No doubt kids already are asking about taking that classic photo with Santa. Health officials warn against up-close pics with St. Nick, but that hasn’t stopped some shopping centers from carrying on with the time-honored tradition with special pandemic protocols.
The medical experts’ advice: Make a new picture-perfect tradition.
“I recommend skipping (the mall Santa) this year,” Dr. Tess Barton, associate professor of pediatric infectious diseases at UT Health San Antonio, said via email. “It’s a good year to take a family photo instead, maybe one with ugly Christmas sweaters.”
Dr. Linda Howelton, senior partner at Northeast Pediatrics Associates in San Antonio, recommends kids pick a favorite place to take a family photo and either leave Santa out of the picture or pose with a photo of Santa.
If your child must have an in-person photo with Santa, Barton noted that some places offer socially distant Santa photos, such as Santa sticking to his sleigh while kids pose at a safe distance in front.
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Encourage virtual face-to-face time: Kids have spent months learning with their classmates and laughing with grandparents on Zoom and other video apps. Given Santa’s propensity for being everywhere at once, you can bet your bandwidth he’ll be video-chatting, too.
Criado set up an online Santa chat for her son, and you can, too. For instance, Video Call Santa is one of the most popular apps for Android and iOS devices, with free and in-app purchase features. FreePersonalizedVideoGreetingFromSantaClaus.com offers just that, while Sam’s Club members also can enjoy the perk of a virtual visit with Santa at mysantasession.com.
Keep making those Christmas lists: The United States Postal Service continues to deliver during the pandemic, so by all means kids should keep on writing to Santa. That goes for on paper as well as on screens.
Kids can write a letter to Santa and mail it with a first-class stamp to: Santa Claus, 123 Elf Road, North Pole 88888. Be sure to mail it no later than Dec. 15 and include your return address.
Meanwhile, the USPS has expanded its Operation Santa campaign at USPSOperationSanta.com. Operation Santa posts letters from children and families in need. You can then become one of Santa’s helpers and adopt a letter to make akid’s wish come true.
Track Santa online: Santa is still very much on our radar, especially online. You can track his annual trip via NORAD Tracks Santa (noradsanta.org) and Google Santa Tracker (santatracker.google.com).
Leave Santa some safe treats: The experts say it’s OK to leave safe treats for Santa. This way kids keep the tradition while also reinforcing safety.
Howelton recommends baking cookies. Santa gets a hot, safe snack for the road and children get a boost of confidence and accomplishment for giving Santa such a good treat. She also suggests bottled water as a safe alternative to milk.
If there’s no time to bake, Criado said it’s perfectly fine to leave Santa a pre-made goodie bag or prepackaged cookies. And don’t forget the hand sanitizer.
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Give yourself a break: Want to really help your child keep up their Christmas spirits? Treat yourself to that joy, too. After all, taking better care of yourself helps you take better care of your child.
“Extend yourself some grace and know that you’re human and you’re doing the very best you can during unprecedented times and that doesn’t make you any less of a parent,” said Eboney Jackson, a licensed psychologist with Mission Psychology.
Jackson said many families have taken a financial hit as well as an emotional one during the pandemic. The holidays have a way of magnifying those woes. That’s why she urges parents to enjoy inexpensive time together rather than worry about trying to afford pricey gifts.
“Think about those things, that the spirit (of Christmas) is not just about gifts. It’s about families and togetherness,” she said.
Remember that Santa will always be part of the family: As kids get older, families eventually have that, let’s just say, more candid conversation about Santa. Kids already are asking a lot of questions this year. No doubt the ongoing pandemic has plenty of parents and caregivers contemplating or feeling pressured to have that talk.
Your head and heart will be your guide. Just remember Santa Claus and the real magic of Christmas can withstand anything that comes their way, especially with the help of a united family.
René Guzman is a features reporter in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. He writes about pop culture and what makes San Antonio so uniquely puro San Antonio. To read more from René, become a subscriber. email@example.com | Twitter: @reneguz