I get it. This is “new.” No one raised these issues when we were kids. But, just because it wasn’t brought up as a problem back then, does that mean it wasn’t a problem?
I will take a controversial stance and say one should never force their child to sit on Santa’s lap neither. Why? Think about the lessons we give to our kids about “Stranger Danger”? How is it suddenly okay to talk to and sit on the lap of this unknown man? Just because he’s got funky facial hair and wears a red suit? Again, give options. Maybe the child will be ok sitting or standing next to Santa? Children know whether they want to sit on Santa’s lap or not, just like they know if they want to kiss or hug a relative. Some may go happily and tell all of their most heartfelt wishes and others might scream like they’re going to be carted away and never see their families again.
Also, a good question if you’re going to have your kid on Santa’s lap, ask yourself – “Who is this for?” “This” could be the picture, the memory, the experience, whatever, but the answer is essential. Many of us have laughed at pictures of kids wailing and flailing to get out of Santa’s lap, but honestly, that instance was likely traumatic for the child. As I see it now, it is somewhat cruel, and I don’t laugh anymore.
I’ve had people say, “But these situations are harmless.” Sure it might sound ridiculous at first. But, consider these points:
Children are still learning nuance. When they are little, parents sometimes teach in generalizations. For example, let’s look at how we educate about oven safety. For example, when my kids were toddlers, I wanted them to avoid the oven at all costs. I said, “don’t touch – hot.” As they got older, I saw that they could understand the concept that the stove could be “dangerous” (relatively speaking) and had respect for the appliance. Once they were mature enough to understand, I gave more explicit instructions and told them to be cautious around the oven when the light was on, and so on. It is this nuance that I think is the best explanation of helping kids to learn about hugging others. Allowing a child not to hug if they are hesitant is a stage of learning and not where they remain into adulthood.
Children learn that they have agency over their bodies and these lessons grow with them. It is okay to set up experiences for our children, like controlled experiments. Let’s face it: some people are “safer” than others. I have definitely gotten uncomfortable vibes from other people and know if I were forced to touch or be touched by them I would not like it. I want my kids to learn that they get to choose for themselves who they want to touch or IF they want to be touched. If we don’t allow them the space to decide now, then when?
I don’t want to teach my children that they SHOULD feel obligated to give access to their body to someone else. Ever. How is this different? This often comes up more for girls than boys, but I believe this lesson is essential for both: no one is entitled to access a child’s body.
Children, especially when they are little, are continuously touched against their will. What I mean by “against their will” relates to some of the daily battles we might have with our kids; hair brushing, teeth brushing, getting shots if you immunize, etc. and other instances that are intrusive but have good intentions. These examples are often done with the child’s best interests at heart. Talking to them about what’s happening and validating their feelings works so well. I spoke to my kids like they were adults when they were very small, similar to how this dad does in this video.
(I’m not referring to the “against their will” instances of unwanted sexual contact or other examples of bad intent. Let me be clear; those are inexcusable and unforgivable when done to a defenseless child).
For us, age 10 seemed to be a good age for my kids when they gained more independence and ability to “do-it-myself” without me really needing to jump in. Knowing the “why” has helped me communicate in these instances. Kids deserve to know at some point that they do have boundaries they can and should exert.