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Santa photos: the good, the bad, and the crying toddler…3 reasons why it ends this way.

Children and Santa photos. You’ve made it to the shopping centre. The kids are in matching outfits. Waited in line for 45 minutes. It all starts. Crying. Screaming. Trying to run away. Everyone is staring. You try to hold it together. Just one photo. Yep. It’s Christmas. 

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas Santa!

The genesis of shopping centre Santa photos

For over 100 years families have taken children to have photos with Santa. The children get really excited to see Santa to the point you can almost see the magic in their eyes. They have the opportunity to chat with Santa about what they would like for Christmas. 


Some kids rush to Santa, like a long lost relative they instantly love and adore. Others, are more cautious, gently approaching, as if ol’ St Nick might explode or vanish at any time.

3 reasons your child is terrified of the big man in red

For all the kids who love being with Santa, there are certainly ones who are scared. Let’s look at why this might be.

1. Santa is a stranger

We send mixed messages about kids talking with strangers. We drum into kids about safety around strangers – don’t talk to them, don’t go with them. But then we expect kids to talk to this man once a year and sit on his knee (often alone, while you wait near the photographer). 

2. Santa looks scary

Maybe if kids saw Santa all year long they would become more familiar with him. But who else dresses like Santa, especially when I live in a subtropical climate where it is summer at Christmas? Santa’s face is partly concealed due to his beard and hat. His overweight body and big fluffy costume. Santa often looks like a giant to a small child. 

3. Santa sounds scary

The sound that tells us Santa is near. The big, loud, deep voice that yells ‘HO HO HO’. The sound of a bell. Sounds that are loud and unfamiliar to small children can frighten them. We expect to hear these sounds, but children often forget from one year to the next, especially under the age of three or four years.   

So, what do you do?

One of the key things to consider is, how important are the Santa photos for you?

Santa photos are part of family traditions around Christmas. My mum took us for Santa photos when we were children, so it was just something I did with my kids without thinking much about it. 

The first photo C-Man was 9 months old, so it was a piece of cake. The second year he was 21 months old and I ended up in the photo with him and he looks very less than impressed! The third year Missy Moo was 9 months old and C-Man refused to go near Santa. I remember being disappointed. The next two years neither of the kids would go near him! They were both so scared. From then on, both kids were perfectly comfortable and are in every photo. 

I hang up the Santa photos every year when I decorate the house for Christmas, and it really doesn’t bother me that there are two years missing. I know that I met the kids’ emotional needs by not forcing and distressing them, and really, how important is a Santa photo anyway? 

Key takeaways from this classic Christmas tale

  1. Children are often scared of the unfamiliar
  2. Children can be confused about mixed messages of stranger danger
  3. Consider how important a Santa photo is to you versus the distress of your child

Final Thoughts

Children being forced to sit with Santa while clearly frightened, crying or screaming, doesn’t sit well with me. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. 

Around Christmastime it’s common to see TV shows or social media displaying photos of crying children in Santa photos. I don’t like it. I think it perpetuates the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to frighten children for the sake of a photo. 

From a child’s perspective, their loving parent forces them to sit on the lap of the scariest looking man in a shopping centre for a photo. It is confusing for them, when the person they love and trust the most in the world does something that makes them feel so frightened. This is not the outcome we want as parents.

Santa photo - Making Mama