Little Kids Hate Mall Santas, So Let’s Stop Forcing Them Onto Their Laps

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kid-santas-lapI took my daughter to the mall to meet Santa the other day. Every other time we’ve gone she’s been terrified, but I was confident this time would be different. She’s 4-years old now, I thought to myself. She’s gonna love meeting Santa. 

Me? I was excited for her to have a magical experience, sure. But mostly I was there for the photos, because that’s what it’s all about. Her on Santa’s lap, grinning like a wild woman. Breathing in the magic of Christmas. Sure, every other time she’s come close to a Santa she’s lost her mind in a hysterical outburst that rivals that of Claire Danes on Homeland, but this time would be different, right?


Now, she loved the lead up experience. Our mall Santa has this whole Shrek theme going on because corporate branding, and we designed and rode in a sleigh for 10 minutes before the meet and greet. She was INTO it. But the second the elf/musical theater major opened the door into Santa’s workshop, she was paralyzed with palpable fear. Her body formed a superhuman latch to the back of my leg and she could only be removed with the jaws of life.

This is not to say mall Santas are creepy or weird or bad. I completely disagree with the movement taking place in Australia to “protect” children from Mall Santas by having them stand next to them. I think that’s going overboard, though parents certainly should have the choice to stand their kid wherever they want. The Santa we met was 1. So realistic looking and acting I began to believe he was real and 2. Incredibly kind, patient, and gentle with my daughter. From what I could tell he did nothing to purposefully scare her. It’s just that being shuttled into a room and coming face-to-face with a mythical person who has an army of elves and visits your house via chimney with presents is, well, terrifying.

Maybe older kids are a little more open and excited when it comes to meeting Santa. But my own daughter and the kids around us were mostly scared shitless. Adults joke about kids crying on Santas lap – I love the picture I have of my daughter, age 2, weeping next to Santa – but their fear is legitimate. If my kid hates something so much that they cry, I don’t make them do it again. (I mean, unless it’s bedtime, because  COME ON AND SLEEP GOD DAMNIT) So why the hell do we keep lining them up to meet Mall Santas year after year?

I know my reason: I f**king love it. Christmas is still magical for me even as an adult, and I try – badly at times – to give my kids the full experience. The Mall Santa is part of that – even though I don’t ever remember enjoying it as a kid, either. Maybe parents should leave the kids at home and hit up the mall Santa on our own next time. Just think of the photos you’ll get.

(Photo: Shutterstock)