You are busy getting ready for the holiday family gatherings that are quickly approaching.

While out shopping at the mall, your children start clamoring for you to take them to see Santa so they can give them their wish list. You want to do this on a day when you can get them dressed for the photo opportunity, so you tell them to wait until you can plan that outing another day.

They protest in unison, “We wanna see Santa! We wanna see Santa!”

You tell them you want them to look nice for Santa.

They don’t care. They start throwing a joint tantrum, each one egging on the other. They are carrying on so loud everyone in the mall is looking at you.

You are feeling embarrassed and are losing your patience. Out of desperation, you say, “Santas good bad list is keeping track of what you are doing. If you don’t settle down, Santa isn’t going to bring any toys to you this year!  You know the history of Santa Claus says he has elves watching everywhere you go!”  If you don’t behave, you might get coal in your stocking”

They stop. Their eyes wide again. Like a true Christmas miracle, it works every time.

“Well,” you think, “at least I found something that will work for the next month or so.”

From November to December, I often do extra media interviews on topics such as activities to do with children during the December holidays. the extra stress of hectic holiday schedules, taming the “Gimmees,” whether lying to children about Santa is an “okay lie,” instilling the spirit of giving in children, and other special parenting issues related to this time of year.

Once, a reporter at the Fresno Bee asked, “During the holidays, parents can get their child to behave by saying “you better be good or Santa won’t bring you toys!” It usually works, but the holidays are the only time they can use it. What do you think about that approach?”

My answer: “This is a prime example of a universal parenting principle: ‘Just because a parenting tactic works, it doesn’t mean you should use it’!”

The reporter seemed taken aback, which isn’t unusual. The idea of not using quick fixes causes quite a few parents to pause and ask “Why not?” For some, “whether something works” is the only criteria they use to decide which tactic to use.

The Problem

If we take this idea of “do whatever ‘works’” to the extreme, you can see just how flawed this kind of thinking is: For example, “If I tape my child’s mouth shut with duct tape, I can make him be quiet.” “If I sit on him or tie him to a chair, he will finally sit still.” Well, yes, these tactics might “work,” but they are also disrespectful to the child, overly harsh and abusive!

Here and in the video at that top are a few real-life examples of the effects of children finding out they are on the “naughty list,” getting coal in their stocking, and other “jokes” parents play on their children*:





As an adult, you might laugh, thinking these are horribly funny jokes. If you put yourself in the children’s shoes, though — at their age, with their perspective, and a sense of humor appropriate to their age — how would you feel? These are cruel “jokes” that take advantage of a child’s innocence. The children might laugh later, but in that moment, you can see the effects are not positive. None of them like being used as the butt of a joke, are confused, hurt and, when the “joke” is revealed, they feel humiliated and angry. These are toally appropriate feelings, given what was just done to them!

So what do children learn from these tactics, whether done as a joke or not? The “naughty” children might get the message they’ve been “bad” and might make efforts to improve their behavior, but the price is that they also learn not to trust their parents; to stuff their feelings and laugh even when feeling hurt, to show they “can take a joke;” and Santa becomes another person who can make them feel bad about themselves. If you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at…

The Research

Many common parenting practices fall into the category of “quick fixes that work in the short run but have a high risk factor of bringing on negative long-term problems.” Bribes, rewards, threats, smacking, slapping, and spanking are a few examples.

These six common parenting practices have all been conclusively proven to be counter-productive by long-term research. There are two prominent decades-long researchers in these areas:

The Choice Is Yours To Make

So you have a choice to make — a choice that presents itself almost daily: Do you use a parenting tactic that will work the fastest, even if it is disrespectful or there is some risk of it backfiring later? Or do you invest some thought and effort into learning, choosing and using an approach that is respectful, also works in the short run, and gets more effective long-term results?

Reactive parents are more likely to do whatever comes to mind first or that “works” immediately.

Proactive parents take the time to learn the most effective approaches (there are dozens), then choose from those options, trusting they will get even better long-term results.

You can run “Santas Good Bad List Threat” and many other parenting approaches through this decision-making filter: “Is this a less effective thing to do, just to get a quick fix or is it the more effective thing to do, to get better short and long-term results?”

Using this filter, you can see “The Santa Threat” is just a quick fix. It might work during the December Holidays, but it is manipulative and would be cruel to follow through with it. So you are better off to resist this holiday temptation and use whatever discipline you normally would use in a similar situation or learn effective discipline techniques that are effective all year-long.

You can discipline without the “Santa Threat” and prevent or resolve other parenting challenges that crop up around the December Holidays, such as: how to shop with your children without whining, begging or tantrums; avoiding embarrassing gift-giving faux pas (like insulting Aunt Susie’s gift); get rid of the Holiday Gimmees and instill the spirit of giving in children; and tell children about Santa without lying.  Just get a recording of the Holiday Parenting Issues Teleseminar to learn how. Go listen to a free sample right now!

* Child Videotaping Use Policy: Relationship Toolshop® International Training Institute, LLC and its licensed representatives do not endorse and, in fact, discourage the videotaping and internet posting of children misbehaving, where it resides forever. While parents may find it cute, funny or think it could serve as a deterrent for the child, the high probability of the child feeling embarrassed, humiliated or even shameful make it a practice we discourage. Such videotaping can, in many cases, escalate or reward misbehavior. If a child starts misbehaving while a parent is videotaping, we encourage the parent to turn off their camera and tend to their child in a loving, respectful, skillful manner. Furthermore, RTITI and its licensed representatives shall only use existing videos of misbehaving children and parents for educational purposes and shall only request parents videotape their child’s behavior for the purpose of private distance-coaching.


Jody Johnston Pawel is a Licensed Social Worker, Certified Family Life Educator, second-generation parent educator, founder of The Family Network , and President of Parents Toolshop Consulting. She is the author of 100+ parent education resources, including her award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop .For 25+ years, Jody has trained parents and family professionals through her dynamic workshops  and interviews with the media worldwide,  including Parents and Working Mother magazines, and the Ident-a-Kid television series

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