Naughty Or Nice: Don’t Use Santa To Discipline Your Kids

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Santa Claus listThere are certain sounds that always let me know Christmas is close. Ringing bells outside of department stores, cheesy Christmas songs on blaring speakers and the peppy “ho, ho, ho” of a certain jolly old elf never fail to get me in the right spirit. However, there is one Christmas sound I’ve found myself noticing a lot since becoming a mom and it never fails to set my teeth on edge: a parent threatening their kid with the spectre of a Santa-less, present-less Christmas.

Perhaps its the way Santa was explained to me as a kid. My parents never made Santa out to be some sort of immortal judge who took equal pleasure in rewarding the “good” children and punishing the “bad.” Instead, I always understood that Santa was a magical being — a spirit if you will — who embodied the joy of giving and the psyche of Christmas. According to what we tell children, Santa and his little helpers spend all year every year crafting the most up to date toys and games and then he exhausts himself on a night when most of us are partying with friends and family so he can spread happiness to children the world over. He doesn’t get a paycheck or a billion presents or anything else in return, but the simple joy of knowing he’s done something kind. What an amazing way to convey to children the absolute magic that selflessness can bring.

So why are some parents using Old Saint Nick as their December disciplinarian instead? When parents hold Santa Claus over their kids’ head for every minor infraction they commit after Thanksgiving it denigrates the whole point of the tradition. Receiving presents instead of giving them becomes the focus and Santa goes from magical and kind to brutal and judgmental, someone to be feared and sucked up to instead of loved and revered.

I could write for hours about the commercialization of the Claus. But the original story is about a kind man who loved children and in his most famous exploit secretly gifted three young girls enough money to marry — there’s no mention of him checking to make sure they were “good” first. I’m not ignoring the fact that the Santa mythology has changed with time and has been used to threaten children before now, with punishments for the “bad” ranging from a lump of coal in a stocking to a brutal beating. However, the original tale and the spirit of the tradition is one of kindness and generosity.

Leaving aside my moral qualms, threatening misbehaving kids with losing out on Santa is simply lazy and ineffective parenting. I hate that some parents have turned Santa into a boogeyman in a twisted attempt to keep their kids in line. For one thing, I’m willing to bet pretty heavily that those parents who use this sort of threat have no intention of carrying it out. Are they really going to let their child wake up on Christmas morning without presents under the tree if they don’t eat all their lunch or if they throw a fit in the store? I don’t think so. So now those parents have turned Santa into a threat and then shown that he has no follow through. Those parents who use Santa as a bargaining chip at this time of year are also shirking their responsibility to parent their children. They are letting Santa do the dirty work so they can save themselves from being “mean.” Instead of coming up with appropriate and effective ways to discipline misbehaving child — discipline that might actually lead to their child learning and growing –they use whatever threat seems most convenient.

Christmas is a magical time of year, especially for children. So please, parents, don’t turn what should be a fun and exciting tradition into an annual battle to be just good enough not to trigger Santa’s “naughty list” pen.

(photo: Shutterstock)