It’s a high-anxiety time of year for kids. Let’s think about it from their standpoint. Many of them are being watched by an Elf on the Shelf who reports back to Santa. Some kids may be receiving threats from parents that if they don’t behave, Santa won’t bring them anything but coal for their stocking. Santa’s naughty or nice list is VERY real for children whose families have Santa as part of their season.
Over the last two weeks, the kids in social groups have demonstrated that anxiety through INCREASED behavior manifestations, not less. Anxiety in children exacerbates irritability, moodiness, defiance, and the ability to self-regulate. Kids who already struggle with self-regulation are finding it nearly impossible. Besides excitement, there is a great deal of fear. The fear creates increased “naughtiness.” Kids become even more anxious that they won’t make the cut on Santa’s list, and their perceived misbehavior continues at a higher rate. It’s a vicious cycle.
What to do? I tell the kids that effort is all that Santa is really looking for. If you try your best and make mistakes, Santa understands that. You can help decrease a child’s anxiety around this by praising their efforts. Maybe have the Elf-on-the-Shelf leave stickers that say “great effort” or “I know that you are trying!” While I wish that Santa was unconditional, the story surrounding how he watches for naughty and nice is part of the picture. Let’s have Santa also watch for effort and give our little people a chance to relax a little more around this time of year.