Opinion: Why I’m stopping using Santa to discipline kids


“Stop fighting with your sister, don’t you know Santa’s watching you? Do you not want any Christmas gifts this year? I’m sure you’ll be sad when you wake up on Christmas morning with nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking.”

I dole out threats like these on an almost daily basis, especially as Christmas nears and the hectic haste of the holidays has me grasping for any quick fix I can find.

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In the moment, and for that one winter month, it works (mostly). But guess what, my kids have never received a lump of coal or fewer gifts on Christmas morning, so why do I keep making the same threats year after year? And what happens when the gifts have been given and the Elf on the Shelf (Santa’s top spy) has headed home?

Suddenly I’m left with no backup buddy when faced with bad behaviour.

In an article in Psychology Today titled, “The Santa Claus Lie Debate: Answering Objections”, Dr. David Kyle Johnson, the story’s author, shares of Santa and the Elf on the Shelf, “It’s a lie, it degrades your parental trustworthiness, it encourages credulity, it does not encourage imagination, and it’s equivalent to bribing your kids for good behavior,” and really he’s not wrong. Do we really want to rely on lies and bribery to get the behaviour we want out of our kids?

In a more recent article on the topic, shared on the Huffington Post UK site and titled, “Naughty or Nice: Should We Really Be Using Santa To Discipline Our Kids?” a psychologist shares the same sentiment. In the article, Dr. Rachel Andrew shares, “Parents are relying on an external, imaginary figure, “Santa”, to back up their authority. If this is the only discipline strategy used then longer term, parents can find themselves feeling powerless at other times of the year, and eventually all of the time. It is more helpful and healthy for children to know that their parents are in charge, through a balance of love and nurture and rules and boundaries.”

As a parent I feel guilt-ridden after threatening to cancel Christmas over misbehaviour, and I feel trapped when I can’t follow through. Instead of leaning on a fictional figure to help with my child rearing, I’m going to take the reins and be the parent.

Santa may “know when you’ve been bad or good”, but how about just be good for goodness sake, regardless of who’s watching?

Bianca Bujan is a mother of three, writer, editor, and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter @biancabujan and Instagram @bitsofbee. 


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