The holidays are almost here—which means moms and dads across the land are having visions of happy babies with Santa dancing in their head. But here’s the deal: If it wasn’t Christmas and the old man at the mall wasn’t Santa, it would be beyond weird to expect your child to be jazzed about waiting in a long line to sit on a stranger’s lap. With that in mind, it’s best to do a little prep work ahead of the visit so baby is ready and willing. Because we all know that a good time also means great pictures—although these days, you can make the best out of a “bad” time too (the hashtag #Santafail was created exactly for this merry delight)—here are your need-to-know tips for making sure your little elf has a good time.
• 1. Plan to see Santa on off hours. Weekends and evenings are the busiest times to snag a spot on the jolly man’s lap. It gets even more crowded the closer Christmas gets. Your best bet? A Saint Nick date on a weekday morning in early December.
• 2. Shop for the perfect Claus. Not all Santas are created equal. Believe me. I know. The first Santa my oldest son ever met smelled like cigarettes and cat pee. (No wonder there was no line.) It was not pleasant. Lesson learned, the following year I polled every parent I knew and I searched online for local Santa reviews. I picked the one everyone raved about—and for good reason. He rocked—and so did my pictures that year.
• 3. Look for alternate locales. “Since chaos seems to reign supreme at mall-type atmospheres, I always try to take my kids to see Santa in a smaller venue,” says Andrea Rhoades, a mom of two. “We go to events like lunch with Santa or do a Santa visit at a community location like the bank, where I know the lines will be short and there will be other activities.” Bonus: These types of events sometimes have allotted time slots to minimize waiting.
• 4. Do a dress rehearsal. Turn your living room into a mini Christmas wonderland by pumping the holiday tunes, strategically placing your comfiest chair in front of the tree and having your child’s stuffed animals and dollies line up to meet Saint Nick. “I used to have my husband pretend to be Santa at home and my daughter would sit on his lap, so she could practice and get comfortable,” says Cherie Corso, a mom of one. “It worked! She never cried sitting on Santa’s lap.”
• 5. Make it just a Santa visit. While many a Santas are at the mall, where one shops for holiday presents, that does not mean you should combine those activities. Tacking a Santa meet-and-greet onto a full day of shopping is a potential recipe for a tired-toddler meltdown. Instead, use your mall visit to familiarize your child with Santa. Be casual. “Hey, look, there’s Santa. Wanna wave?” Allow your child to watch other children sit on Santa’s lap and ask, “Would you like to meet Santa too?” This oh-by-the-way Santa sighting can make your child more comfortable when it’s go-time at a later visit.
• 6. Look at Santa pictures. A week or so leading up to your visit, familiarize your little one with the many faces of Saint Nick. Show your child old family photos with you on Santa’s lap as a kid. Thumb through books and print-out pictures from the Internet to look at together too. The more your child sees, the more familiar she becomes, the less stressed she’ll be to see him in person.
• 7. Get comfy. While you by no means need to dress your child in a holiday-themed outfit to see Santa, you do want to ensure that your kiddo’s outfit isn’t itchy, or tight or in anyway uncomfortable. After all, no one smiles if their tights are cutting off their circulation. “I remember one Santa visit with the kids dressed in these adorable holiday outfits,” recalls mom-of-two Julia Simens. “The children looked so cute and the line was short, but they were so uncomfortable. Both kids were crying by the time it was their turn to sit on Santa’s lap.”
• 8. Pack treats. No matter how easy-peasy you think your Santa visit will be, cover any what-ifs that may occur. Stuff your diaper bag with snacks and drinks for everyone. Toss in the lovey and paci and any distraction that keeps your child happy. Bring the stroller and the carrier. Bring extra diaper and wipes. And have a picture-appropriate change of clothes at the ready in case there are any diaper blowouts or baby spit-up to deal with.
• 9. Give a gift. Even toddlers and preschoolers need an ice breaker sometimes. Before heading off for the big visit, prepare a gift to give to Santa, like a cellophane-wrapped chocolate chip cookie, a letter or a Christmas drawing. Having your child offer a present may calm any meet-and-greet jitters.
• 10. Skip the line. If you find yourself several-people deep in a Santa queue, have one parent wait and the other take baby elsewhere. Simply have the line-waiter text you when there are just two children ahead. That’s not technically skipping, so you’re cool.
• 11. Go first. When it’s your family’s turn to meet Father Christmas, take the lead and greet the old fella yourself. Maybe even ask if you can give him a big ol’ hug. This sends a clear message to your child that Santa is a friendly and safe dude to hang with.
• 12. Buddy up. If your child is nervous or shy, team up with an enthusiastic friend or cousin and share the experience. Hopefully, their holiday excitement will be contagious!
• 13. Bring a special friend. Children often love to have their doll or favorite stuffed toy meet Santa too. This cuddly buddy can be a great conversation starter and it can act as a you-go-first picture option. If you see jitters building, ask your child if he’d like Mr. Whiskers to have his picture taken first.
• 14. Don’t be so lap focused. Sitting on a stranger’s lap can be, well, kinda strange, especially if your kid hasn’t done it before. If your child is not into it, don’t force it. “My eldest daughter is always super-excited to see Santa and to sit on his lap, but her sister totally freaks out,” says mother-of-two Briana Marie. “I never, ever force her to sit on Santa’s lap.” Instead, re-think your kids’ Santa pose. Perhaps snap a picture of your child standing by Santa. Or ask Santa to kneel or stand beside your child. Or you can sit next to Santa with your child on your lap.
• 15. Grab baby’s attention. Come prepared with a toy or stuffy to shake by the camera if your child is not looking the way of the lens. Or consider calling in the big guns: Look At Mommy LED ($27.95) is a cute and fuzzy owl-like creature that lights up and clips to the top of your phone to lure baby’s eyes toward the camera.
Published October 2017