Published Date: 11/28/20
10 Tips to Make Your Santa Pictures Great and What to Know Before Heading to the Mall
Santa Claus photo shoots can bring smiles and joy or they can bring tears and stress. A lot depends on how old your child is and his or her temperament.
When heading out to visit your local mall Santa, keep in mind that these seemingly harmless holiday pictures can have much bigger implication on what you’re teaching your child.
As adults, we may get a warm fuzzy feeling when thinking about Santa. Memories from our own childhood Christmases may come flooding back. But keep in mind those memories aren’t from when you were a toddler.
Will my child remember Santa photos?
Research shows we have two types of memories – implicit and explicit. Explicit memories are your autobiographical memories – the ones that help you remember that Christmas when you finally got the Barbie Dream House you’d been begging for or the remote control car you wanted for years.
Implicit memories are unconscious, emotional reflections. They’re not specific events that you can cite or necessarily describe. These can be those warm and fuzzy feelings – or they can be quite negative.
While you may think that your child will never remember those tearful Santa photos, they may be stored in your child’s implicit memory, and bring up negative feelings in the future – not just about Santa and Christmas, but they could be related to any number of associated things. The color red, white beards, older men, or the texture of velvet, for example. If grandpa has a white beard, you may find your child quite frightened of him after a Santa photo shoot.
Should you force your child to take Santa photos?
Beyond the issues with creating negative implicit memories, Santa Claus holiday photos can also have other repercussions.
Parenting expert and psychologist Dr. Justin Coulson told The Daily Mail, "If a child is distressed or non-consenting then it's disrespectful and it can even be bullying to force a child to sit on a stranger's lap for a photograph."
He went on to tell Mamamia, "I don’t know where we get the idea from that seeing our kids suffer and experience fear and anxiety is funny," he explained. "Any thinking, empathic parent is going to recognize that this is a stressful situation for some children and there is absolutely no benefit to it.”
“We make a really big deal about teaching our children about body boundaries, about body safety and about consent. And all of a sudden we make this bizarre exception for a stranger in a red suit in a shopping center.”
Developmental psychologist and associate professor at the University of Kentucky in Lexington Christia Spears Brown talked to The Washington Post about the importance of teaching consent and unwanted touching early, and photos with Santa and other holiday traditions are a great opportunity to teach children that they have control over their bodies.
Spears Brown said, “We want them to be able to say that when they’re 14 and 15 and 16. Why would we not respect that earlier just because it’s part of this cultural tradition?
If you’re planning on taking Santa photos, let your child have control. Don’t force them to hug Santa or sit on his lap. If they’re frightened at the sight of him skip the photo altogether. Doing so will help teach your child about body autonomy, consent, and will demonstrate that you listen to them and respect them. You can also use these tips to help make a Santa photo shoot run more smoothly.
10 Tips to make your Santa photo shoot great
Familiarize your child with Santa ahead of time – show your child photos of Santa several times before your visit. Read books together about Santa Claus and Christmas. If you permit screen time, show your child some Santa videos.
Take your child ahead of time – head over to the mall and see if they’ll let your child meet Santa without taking pictures. Your child can say hello and begin to get comfortable with the jolly stranger in the red suit.
Talk to your child about Santa photos – before picture day, talk to your child about what photos with Santa Claus are. Let your child know that it’s okay to not give hugs or sit on Santa’s lap. Remind him or her that saying ‘no’ is always okay when it comes to someone else touching you. Tell your child that you won’t be mad if they don’t feel comfortable with Santa.
Offer alternatives to Santa’s lap – Santa photos can still be great even if they don’t involve touching. Let your child know that it’s okay to sit or stand next to Santa if that’s how they feel the most comfortable.
Dress up at home like Santa – you don’t have to don a Santa suit from head to toe but think through what about Santa might be frightening. Wearing a white beard and Santa hat around the house for a few days may make your child comfortable enough when the day arrives.
Make sure your child is well-rested and fed before photos – you may be tempted to stand in line and then go and grab lunch, but hungry children are far more likely to melt down than ones with full bellies. Don’t go during nap time or if your child had a rough night’s sleep.
Bring something to entertain your child while you wait – Santa lines are often long and bored children are more likely to be sensitive and not agreeable. Keep children entertained with favorite toys and book while you wait.
Plan distractions – if you’re outdoors, bring bubbles. If you’re inside, you can try playing your child’s favorite song and dance to make them more comfortable.
Get in the Santa photo – if your child has hesitations about pictures with Santa, plan on jumping in the photo and holding her or him so they feel more comfortable.
Be prepared to bail – if your child starts crying, don’t force the Santa picture. Let her or him know that it’s perfectly fine and you’ll try again some other time or wait until next year.
You can also check with local photographers who do Santa pictures, like these by Stokes Photography. Your child may have a better reaction being nearby Santa instead of sitting on his lap.
Other creative ideas for Santa photo shoots
Because of COVID-19, not every city has opportunities to take pictures with Santa.
Photographer Justin Mikkelsen of Salem, Oregon is doing shoots with families and digitally adding Santa. If you don’t live nearby or don’t have the cash for a professional shoot, grab a Santa photo backdrop or wall decal and nobody will know the difference.
Another way to incorporate Santa without tears and without the risk of COVID-19 is to download a free Santa image from sites like Pexels, Pixabay, and Freepik (make sure to check the license of the photos before using) and grab a freelancer off of Fiverr to work some retouching magic. Check with your retoucher before taking pics of your family to make sure you’ll be able to seamlessly blend the images.
Whatever you decide, keep your spirits bright and have a safe and happy holiday season!
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