This “Santa Claus is coming soon, so you better be good” thing is working out great for me so far.
Although this is my daughter’s third Christmas, it’s the first year she’s been able to fully grasp the idea that she’ll soon be receiving a mountain of gifts from old Kris Kringle — assuming she behaves herself, of course. And don’t think for a second that I’m not using her newfound comprehension of holiday traditions to my own advantage. Hey, don’t judge —my husband does it, too.
My 2-year-old, Reese, is a typical active toddler. She explores everything out of curiosity, makes messes constantly, doesn’t always clean up after herself, often refuses to do as she is told (even though she knows her defiance is wrong) and makes choices she likely realizes will get her in almost-immediate trouble.
Since she entered the “terrible twos,” I’ve employed a variety of methods to improve her behavior, minimize temper tantrums and convince her to cooperate when asked. Don’t think I let her run around willy-nilly, causing disturbances and ruckuses wherever she goes. Like any average (exhausted and frustrated) toddler parent, I try my hardest to keep my kid under control. It’s just that, well, it’s hard.
Enter St. Nick. He’s better than any parenting website, book, magazine article or even word-of-mouth advice. The psychology behind it is pretty simple, if you can even say there is psychology behind it: Don’t act up and you’ll be rewarded with presents. Just looking my little girl in the eyes and uttering the word “Santa” is enough to stop a meltdown in its tracks.
Sure, it goes against everything we, as parents, are cautioned to avoid. Children should behave well because we taught them to mind their P’s and Q’s through a system of positive reinforcement, gentle reminders, firm discipline and clever tactics — not because we bribed them.
Actually, my husband was the first one to play the “Santa is watching you” card. I resisted for awhile for the aforementioned reasons. Besides, I thought, if this becomes a crutch for me, what will I do once Christmas is over and Reese isn’t quite as intimidated knowing that she has 11 months to misbehave before having to really “make it count” next December?
However, nothing changes an indignant parent’s mind faster than a 2-year-old getting dangerously close to temper-tantrum territory in the middle of the grocery store on a busy Saturday afternoon. Honestly, I also was considering throwing a fit as we stood in line at Walmart’s pharmacy for 35 minutes, watching as a single cashier slowly and inefficiently waited on customers, each of whom asked a litany of questions, had insurance issues when it came time to pay or swore they’d called in a prescription refill that the pharmacy staff mysteriously couldn’t find.
Finally, Reese had had enough. It didn’t help that about 30 feet away stood a very prominent display of Disney “Frozen” figurines, toys and games. It was all my daughter could do not to leap out of the cart and make a mad dash over to the fairy-tale-themed haven. She began wailing, kicking and outright demanding to go over and check out the merchandise. I had been promising her we would, as soon as we were done in the pharmacy line.
At that point, I realized that assuring Reese we’d go look at the toys in the very near future simply wasn’t enough. I had to take it a step further.
“Hey,” I told her, “if you don’t stop yelling and acting up, Santa will not bring you any of those ‘Frozen’ toys for Christmas. We can look at them, but you won’t get any to play with because you’re being a naughty girl right now. If you stop crying, though, I bet you’ll get some as gifts.”
Go ahead, cast judgment. I deserve it. It was a lame move on my part. I’m not sorry, though, because it worked. Reese settled down and other shoppers stopped shooting me death glares.
All was quiet, until we got to the pharmacy counter and I was told by the technician that my prescription simply wasn’t ready because Walmart had run out of it. When it became clear to me I’d wasted 40 minutes in line, a tantrum was inevitable. On my part, of course, not Reese’s.