Dog in Santa Hat to illustrate importance of talking to kids about consent and sitting on Santa's lap.
Sitting on Santa’s lap is a great time to talk to kids about consent.

Sitting on Santa’s lap and consent. This is a perfect opportunity to frame this message in a way that kids will understand.

In light of the #MeToo movement, we understand that ideas and values about healthy relationships start at a very young age, when kids are so impressionable. When we force children, especially the really young kids, to sit on the lap of a suspiciously bearded old guy in a really weird red suit, we are communicating to them that their inner voice of “this is just not right” should be quieted. We are conveying to them that their fearful intuition should be ignored because the adult (the person in power) insists upon participation.

Think about the messages this sends, especially to the youngest kids who do not understand that this is the guy that brings the presents. They internalize these implications:

1. How you feel doesn’t matter.
2. The person in power ultimately controls your behavior.
3. Don’t trust your instinct.
4. Consent? What’s that?

In other words, the tears and fears of little ones are communicating to parents, “I did not agree to this. I’m scared. Please, I trust you to help me.”

How to work around the coveted Santa Pic


There are ways to work around the coveted Santa Pic that allows your child to begin to understand the concept of consent and autonomy.

1. If your child is older, talk to them about visiting Santa. Find out if this is something they’d like to do.
2. If they want to visit Santa, but not sit on his lap, no problem! Plan ahead how they can interact with Jolly Old St. Nick. Fist bump? A polite handshake? A simple conversation? It’s all good. (This is also a great strategy for greeting family members, as well.)
3. There are other options if a child prefers not to sit on Santa’s lap for photos. They can stand next to the big guy, have a parent stand with the child, or, if the child is small, the parent can hold the child while grinning for the camera.
4. Perhaps consider taking a photo next to a Christmas Tree instead. There are no holiday rules. Make up your own tradition that feels right to your child and your family’s values.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It is also a great opportunity to teach kids about consent and kindness. Who is better qualified to teach children these important concepts than family?

To read what other experts say about sitting on Santa’s lap, read this article in Celebrity Parents Magazine  Why You Shouldn’t Force Your Child to Sit On Santa’s Lap According to Experts by Jennifer Parris. Oh, and I happen to be one of the experts quoted.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all.