As most of you know, I spend most of my Christmas season coordinating where 33+ Santas and Mrs. Claus' go. I am a booking agent for Santas over at Atlanta's Santas. It's a very unique job with some very unique experiences that go a long with it.
About 25 years ago my father 'accidentally' became Santa. No, nothing like the Santa Clause. More like a few friends asking him to don a fake beard and wig, put on a Santa suit and be Santa. After his first year he decided to do it right, and grew his own beard, invested in a nice suit, and hasn't stopped ever since. If he ever shaved his beard, I know my kids would never recognize him.
Then about 6 years ago my father lost his 9-5 job right before Christmas. In order to make a house payment, I had to help him get enough gigs to save the house... Praise God we did! That next year several of his Santa friends asked me to help book for them and thus Atlanta's Santas was born!
Over the past 20+ years I have gone from 'helper elf' to 'head elf' and seen so many things along the way. I've learned some of the best tricks to get that smile from a reluctant child and how to have the best visit with Santa. Here are my top tips:
Don't Force Your Kids.
If your child is mortified of Santa, then all you're going to do is hurt him or Santa. I have heard horror stories of Santa getting kicked in a very uncomfortable place, because a mother forced her screaming, kicking child onto Santa's lap. Sometimes you may have to wait a year. However if you have a good Santa then there are a lot of tricks to get past this one:
- The most common is for Mom to hold the child and sit with Santa
- Mom can hold the child and sit in Santa's chair, then Santa (without the child's knowledge) can sneak behind the chair and pose for the picture.
Don't Rescue Your Kids.
I know I said don't force them, but if they are just a little unsure, don't rescue them either. If you can sit your child down and they just act shy, DO NOT PICK THEM BACK UP!!! Once you've picked them back up the battle is lost. Leave them clinging to your legs and let Santa talk to them for a minute. You would be amazed how a great Santa can distract the kids and have them on his lap smiling for a picture before the child knows what happened. They may not give Santa their wish list that year, but at least you'll have a picture. My father has this amazing little 'speech' that he will give the kids. "What's that on your shirt? Is that a reindeer? Come here and show me that" all of the sudden the child is more than happy to share whatever may be printed on their shirt, and before they know it they are sitting with Santa. As you can see in the picture above, once mom stepped away, the child calmed down.
Okay, not literally. But if you have a young one under two years old, then you have about a 10 second window to get the best picture. Walk up to Santa, sit your child down, then get out of the way of the camera. I have seen too many moms sit their child down then stand there to see what their child would do. Most little ones will take a few seconds to assess the situation before they start crying. That assessment time is your only window to avoid the red faced scream. Usually you will end up with a picture like the one above with the little one looking at Santa.
Use the Siblings
If you have a wide age range, use the older kids to help keep the younger ones calm. A lot of toddlers will sit with Santa if they see their older siblings with him first. If you have a baby, and an older sibling can safely hold/carry them: give the baby to your older child and let them go to Santa.
Some years you may not get that perfect picture; You may have to settle for a crying red face. You know what? That's okay. Looking back on the pictures it will be wonderful to compare once your child was more comfortable with Santa. Some of my favorite pictures are the crying babies. Don't forget: you spend all year warning you kids about 'Stranger Danger' and now you're asking them to sit for a picture with a stranger. Some kids are not going to be happy with that.
I hope these tips will help you make the most out of your trip to Santa whether that be at the mall, a family party or even the photo studio.
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