Santa CAN’T be Used as a Behavior Strategy: Three Reasons to Kick Santa out of the Consequence Kingdom

Last year during the holidays I remember reading a Facebook post where a mom was so frustrated with her daughter’s behavior that she was thinking about making her watch the rest of her family open presents while her stocking and her space under the tree were empty.  She was to get nothing!  I read comment after comment taking sides and was physically ill after digesting them. I envision this mom being at the end of her rope having tried many strategies with few changing her daily life significantly. When I see someone needing help on social media either basic help or “dig in deep” kind of help, my answer is always the same. “I’m here if you need me.” This post was the hardest post for me to quiet my passion and wait for them to find me. Now almost a year later, I am still thinking about how I felt for that mom, the child and how I wish she reached out so I could help heal that relationship. Maybe someday she will find this article and it will ignite a new wave of strategies based in love. Fingers crossed.

The holidays are a time when stress is at an all-time high and we lean on fictional characters such as Santa and Elf on the Shelf to adjust behavior.  What we may not realize is shame can be a result of this strategy and shame isn’t something we should be messing with.  Here are 3 reasons to steer clear of holiday fictitious characters as a behavior management strategy:

1. Santa can’t be used as currency: A pediatrician once told me that behavior management is all about finding a child’s currency and then using it often. Once you find their currency, you will be golden and everything will change. During the holidays, parents see Santa as the perfect currency. Using Santa as currency can ignite shame in children.

2. Shame can become a life-long, uphill battle: Shame is a little bird that says “you are bad. The very core of your being isn’t good and you should be ashamed.” Children are inherently good. Sometimes they make poor choices. My son wondered (out loud) the other day if he was going to get presents from Santa this year. I asked him why he was wondering that. He said, “I try my best all year, but sometimes I can’t hold it together and I’m afraid Santa won’t leave a present.” I told him, in our house, Santa isn’t used as a behavior strategy. If something arises, we will teach a skill, meet a need and use love to get to a different space. Santa isn’t used as a threat or dosed in a shame fire to be hurled in anyone’s direction!

3. What, then, do we do the rest of the year?: Since Santa, as a behavior strategy, is out, we have to find another way of helping children be at their best. Logical consequences are a great choice. They have to be reasonable, respectful and related to make sense and be useful. Santa is usually laid out as a consequence. Santa rarely meets with 3 R’s that meet the logical consequence criteria. Consequences are, by far, the subject I get the most questions about. In a moment of strong emotion, it is quite difficult to think logically of a love-based solution. And, we want these consequences to adjust behavior fast. Time and patience is essential to a consequence’s implementation. Chose love and celebrate growth often.

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