July 15, 2024


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The Gentle Parenting Stance on Santa/Father Christmas – Sarah Ockwell-Smith

The Gentle Parenting Stance on Santa/Father Christmas – Sarah Ockwell-Smith

“What’s the Gentle Parenting stance on Santa (or Father Christmas if you’re in the UK)?”

“I’ve heard you’re not allowed to do Santa if you follow Gentle Parenting – is that true?”

I think many are confused about Gentle Parenting. It is simply a belief system that children deserve to be treated with respect and that any discipline used should be mindful of their neurological development. There is no ‘gentle parenting stance’ on Santa. Those who follow gentle parenting come from all walks of life and hold different beliefs. Some will fully embrace the Santa myth, others won’t. 

TLDR: There is no Gentle Parenting stance on Santa!

One thing gentle parenting does shun is the idea of punishments and rewards. Research shows us that neither are effective discipline methods, because they both focus on extrinsically manipulating behaviour, rather than working to find the root cause of the problem and solving it. This means that, at best, rewards and bribes can only produce a temporary positive effect, but in the long run their usage can actually make behaviour worse. The same is true of punishments and threats. They presume the child is choosing to misbehave and can change their behaviour, but in most cases the child would rather they didn’t behave in such a disregulated way too. Punishments simply punish children for having a problem and don’t do anything to solve them.

Constant monitoring of behaviour and threats to tell Santa that children have been naughty/not getting any gifts is a sure fire way to lose the festive spirit and cause stress in both parents and children. What is won’t do however is improve behaviour, parents find themselves in a cycle of increasing threats and worsening behaviour, then comes the question – do they follow through with their threats and ruin Christmas for everyone? Or do they go back on them and lose what little authority they had over their children, who will quickly learn that they don’t follow through on their threats.

In addition, the idea of an ‘all seeing’ judgemental mythical being spying on children is quite trauma inducing. There’s no surprise that so many children break down in tears when they meet Santa and why so many have nightmares about ghosts, monsters and the like. How can we pretend that big brother Santa is real, while on the other hand reassuring that other creatures of the night are not?

However you try to spin it, when we lie about Santa to our children we ARE lying. It’s tricky, I understand wanting to spread joy and magic, but do we need to lie to do that? What about when our children realise we were lying? When they find out Santa isn’t real and Christmas all of a sudden loses its magic?

This is why I embraced the story of Santa and St Nicholas with my own children, we still visited Santas Grottos, we still left out mince pies and a carrot for Rudolph, we still wrote letters to Santa, we still watched all the Santa movies, the only difference is that my children knew he was just a story and they knew that we were pretending, it didn’t make it any less magical. They also knew Harry Potter, Unicorns, The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairies were stories, but the wonder of childhood imagination meant that they still embraced the stories with joy.

To this day, my children (15, 17, 19 and 20) still indulge in the story of Santa. We still leave out a mince pie and a carrot, whoever remembers is the one to take charge and nibble them for others to find, we still visit Santa’s grottos (they were the oldest children at the one we visited last year by a good 10 years!). This isn’t a gentle parenting stance though, just my own individual belief of what’s right for my family.

p.s: For lots of Gentle Parenting mythbusting and Q&As, check out the brand new updated and revised (with two brand new chapters!) edition of ‘The Gentle Parenting Book’. Out April 23.