A new holiday trend is sweeping the nation but is it really just harmless fun?

By Kristi Pahr
December 10, 2019
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Getting that perfect Santa picture is a battle parents fight every year. Between outrageous lines, uncooperative kids, and the potential for a less than authentic-looking St. Nick, it’s a miracle Santa pictures ever turn out the way we hope. But these days the perfect Santa picture may not be what we remember from our own childhoods.

A new Santa photo trend is taking hold, much to the dismay of toddlers everywhere. Parents are clamoring to professional photographers who specialize in capturing photos of children crying in Santa's lap. As CBS News reported one Atlanta photographer sold out 7,000 photoshoot slots in 10 minutes. "We have parents coming here, hoping their kids will cry," photographer Jeff Roffman told CBS. "They leave disappointed if their kids don't."

Crying toddlers just come with Santa photo territory, explains Roffman. "The kids are gonna cry no matter what. It's just that we kind of accentuate that.”

And while it may all seem like good fun—creating memories to chuckle at down the road—it turns out the toddlers are developmentally geared to be afraid of Santa. Masks and costumes, anything that a child may have trouble identifying can be frightening for toddlers and preschoolers. Similarly, an innate wariness of strangers is developmentally appropriate for toddlers and young preschoolers who are still learning how to navigate the world. By thrusting a young child into the lap of a giant, unfamiliar man in a strange red suit, parents are setting the stage for a full-on fear-based meltdown.

Forcing your child to do something they don’t want to do, something that makes them uncomfortable and fearful also flies in the face of teaching consent, which, in the #MeToo era, has become more prominent than ever. A young child in the throes of a fear-based meltdown is not giving consent to sit in the big, scary stranger’s lap.

In the only way they know how to, they are saying they absolutely do not consent to sit in the big, scary stranger’s lap. Forcing it might have unforeseen emotional implications. "There might be emotional distress coupled with the implicit message that they cannot control with whom they are physically intimate," explains Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York. By ignoring their child’s feelings and insisting they enter into a situation that is uncomfortable for them, parents may be teaching their child an early lesson that their consent and their feelings don’t matter.

When it comes to getting that perfect Santa picture, the most important thing to remember is children’s feelings matter and if they aren’t into it, there’s always next year.

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