Is it Time to Stop Using Santa to Discipline Our Children?

I visited my favourite café recently. It is a café I visit often with my children. Sometimes this can be a solitary experience, as my children play in the play area and I sit alone with my coffee, but at other times it is quite nice to have some peaceful time and take everything in. “Everything” includes the hubbub of other café guests. Mostly other mums, usually in pairs, always chatting away and scarcely drawing breath. In such a small place it is difficult not to overhear what they are talking about.

I sometimes liken it to the ever popular ‘Overheard in…’ segments you find online. Mine for this would be ‘Overheard in the Café’. I love this part of my café visit because I hear some fantastically weird and wonderful things when people think I’m not listening.

On this latest visit, my ‘Overheard in the Café’ was something I keep hearing lately. It was a threat by a mum that if her child didn’t behave, “Santa won’t be coming to give you presents”. Ouch.

And walking home from nursery school with my daughter on the morning of the café visit, I walked past a parent berating her child for doing something wrong. The parent used the threat of Santa in an almost chilling way. This parent went on to tell her child that she was going to report him to Santa and Santa would not be coming, under any circumstances. Her tone was serious, her face scary, and her manner was intimidating even to me.

That disturbed me, hearing that, and then again at the café. Had I not had the first experience, I would probably would have thought no more about the café incident. But both of them left me feeling unsettled and wondering how we have arrived at a situation where, instead of jovial “You have to be good for Santa yada yada blah blah” light talk, we have moved to full on threats of reporting children’s behaviour to Santa, and turning him into this figure of complete authority and part of tactics to discipline children.

Now I’m all for the myth of Santa. I big up Santa to my children all of the time and they absolutely love him. And I remember as a child myself being told as a joke that I wouldn’t get presents if I was bad. But I don’t remember my parents labouring that point repeatedly and I certainly don’t remember it becoming a threat in the package of my childhood discipline.

You may have guessed from my tone that I’m firmly on the side of not using Santa as a punishment/threat/deterrent. I believe I have to find other ways to encourage my children to behave in an acceptable way, without threatening to ruin something they hold so dear and look forward to at the end of the year. Not to mention the dire situation I would be in if I actually relied on a figure that comes out once a year in order to keep my kids in check.

So thinking about this, I wonder why some parents feel they have no choice but to resort to threatening Santa/No present tactics in order to get their children to comply. Are we really that out of ideas? I know it isn’t easy to deal with children when they are not behaving in a way adults find appropriate but surely threatening them with this is counter-productive?

I find the whole issue of childhood behaviour management fascinating, particularly the cycles that society seems to go through of accepting different parenting styles at different times. For me, in the run up to becoming a parent, it seemed to be that the discipline of choice was all about naughty steps and time out. I confess I watched all of the TV shows about this and sat and watched the families on those programmes and questioned how they could let things get like that. Answer? Easily. I see that now. And I see the format of the programmes is the same each time – film the family ‘getting it wrong’, tell them they are getting it wrong, tell them how to fix it and then return two weeks later to show life is wonderful and it will never happen again.

Personally, I believe children are not these wicked little beings who exist to misbehave and need constant correction. I believe children are wonderful little beings who need to be guided through the maze that is learning about life so that when they grow into adults they can function in the world alongside everybody else. Misbehaving I think is more our term; it refers to them not behaving in a way adults think they should behave but if you really look at what they are doing when you feel they should be corrected, it is probably pretty normal childhood behaviour.

So perhaps the problem is us. The grown-ups. Perhaps we need to calm down, step back and see our children as they are – amazing mini people who are learning, making mistakes, falling over, learning some more, and ultimately need our patience and need picking back up; not our admonishment and our empty threats.

Perhaps this is a resolution for 2016. And perhaps we should leave Santa out of this and let him get on with delivering presents to every child – good and bad.

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