By Veronica Gomez, Special to the Los Angeles Times
November 28, 2011
It's that time of year when you are probably gearing up to torture your offspring with the ever-so-necessary trip to see Santa Claus. Well, take a look at this picture and heed this advice: Don't do it! At the very least, think twice.
My mom has insisted on displaying this photo in our living room for the past 20 years, so I've had plenty of time for reflection. Why do parents do this? I mean, look at that howling baby! I may not remember the terror evident on my face, but I can tell you that my Santa phobia foreshadowed fears to come.
My family's regular outings to Red Robin restaurants were a source of anxiety; the human-sized bird mascot in blue vest and red sneakers sent me diving under the table whenever he approached. Hiding spots were harder to find at Disneyland, where the bobblehead chipmunks, ducks and other supposedly lovable characters that roamed the park could ignite a panic attack faster than a rocket could zoom through Space Mountain.
There was no escape at the "North Pole" either. I absolutely hated Santa Claus. He would try to entice me with those red-and-white sticks of deliciousness, but if I'd had the ability to execute an escape plan, all of the candy canes in the world wouldn't have kept me around. Even though I was clearly not a fan of this long-running tradition, my parents plopped me down on that red-velvet lap anyway, year after year after year.
Recently I discovered why my mom made me sit in tears on Santa's lap. She and I went to Disneyland with my sisters to celebrate my nephew's 2nd birthday. As soon as Gunner got close to the giant Mickey Mouse, he began to bawl for his mom, who mercifully pulled him away. But it was long enough to snap a photo and create a sentimental moment for the adults.
If my personal experience isn't enough to dissuade you from making that trip to Santa's Village, listen to the advice of psychologists. In a 2009 study conducted at the UC Irvine Child Development Center, researchers found that kids thrived the most in nurturing, sensitively attuned, responsive caregiving environments. In another study, psychologists from Vanderbilt University compared how children fared with unfamiliar adults who were warm and responsive versus others who were cold and aloof. Not surprisingly, they found that kids subjected to the non-nurturing adults were less happy, according to a 2005 study in the journal Social Development.
In situations like mine with Santa, my parents weren't emotionally responsive. They allowed me to sit there crying so they could get a nice memory. I am not saying that my emotional development was severely affected, but every child is different.
This is supposed to be a fun experience, so let your sons and daughters decide when they are ready to see Santa, so they can enjoy the experience too. Eventually, your children will love telling Santa what they want for Christmas, and in the long run, those are the memories that really matter.
Gomez is an emergency medical technician in Huntington Beach.
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