For years, parents have used Santa to encourage good behavior, but is Santa a good behavioral tool?

We all know the drill: if you’re nice, Santa will bring you toys, candy and other treats, but if you’re naughty, you’ll end up with nothing but a lump of coal in your stocking. Santa has been used for centuries by parents all over the world hoping to wrangle their children to behave. In fact, it used to be that Santa was more of a disciplinarian than a jolly-gift-giver. Today, parents are even bringing in reinforcements to bring Santa the news of naughty children. Elf on the Shelf is Santa’s latest helper, and many parents tell their children that the elf is always watching and will report to the big man in red if they don’t behave. As tempting as it is to use Santa and his helpers as behavioral aids, there are a couple of distinct downsides to using Santa Claus to get your children to behave.


Why Santa isn’t such a great behavioral tool:

  • Santa is only around during the holiday season. When you’re in the middle of summer, somehow saying, “If you don’t behave, Santa won’t come,” isn’t quite as effective.
  • If a child misbehaves, most parents won’t actually withhold gifts. When you start making idle threats about what may happen if your child doesn’t behave, sooner or later, they are going to start catching on, and any threat, whether you mean it or not, just won’t work.
  • Your definition of “good” is probably different than your child’s definition. So simply telling your child that Santa wants them to be good is just too vague.

Although Santa probably won’t help your children to behave, it doesn’t mean that you still can’t include him in your celebrations. Santa is a fun, traditional part of Christmas that can be vital for your family’s celebration; just don’t try to use him to keep the kids in line.


How do you get your kids to behave without the threat of coal in their stockings?

As we mentioned, Santa has been around for centuries, and parents have been using him to enforce good behavior since the very beginning. So, without using Santa, what can you do to help your kids behave? Many child psychologists stand by positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement, which may just be another reason why the threat of not getting gifts from Santa doesn’t really help kids behave all that effectively. With positive reinforcement, your child is given credit for the good things they do, rather than just punishments for the bad things they do. However, even with positive reinforcement, children will sometimes misbehave.  Here are a few things you can do as to help your child behave over the holidays and throughout the year without having to drag Santa into it:

  • Don’t give vague instructions – As we mentioned earlier, one of the biggest issues with using Santa as a behavioral tool is that saying, “be good,” is just too vague. Instead of giving a generic command, like be good, give your child more specific instructions. Giving your child tasks to complete or specific instructions for the things they must do is much more straightforward and easy to follow than just telling them to be good.
  • Make punishments and rewards realistic – Children need to know that every cause has an effect and that there are consequences for their actions. In order to get this message across, those consequences, whether they be rewards or punishments, must be realistic.
  • Follow through on your punishments and rewards – Again, Santa isn’t a good behavioral tool because most parents don’t actually follow up on the threat of withholding presents. In order to get your child to actually listen to you, you absolutely must follow through on punishments and rewards. If consequences are never actually carried out, they are no longer consequences.

Enjoy Santa, but don’t try to use him to enforce good behavior in your kids.

Santa is an important part of the Christmas tradition, but that doesn’t mean that you have to keep the ineffective tradition alive of using him as a behavioral tool! Turn to Child’s World Academy to get the child care you need in Monroe, and we will partner with you to help solve any behavioral problems you may be experiencing with your child.