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More how-to guides for life
Tuesday, December 9, 2003
How to's for life A monthly guide

By Stephanie Dunnewind, Seattle Times staff reporter

For all the fun and joy of the holidays, there are the stresses: the lines for Santa photos, the incomprehensible directions for putting together the bicycle your child is expecting, the toy wish list that grows by the day, the nagging question of how Santa can be in so many places at the same time. Here are some Santa-related tips so you'll spend the season saying "ho, ho, ho" instead of "no, no, no."


Some advice offered by Jason Viydo, vice president of Arthur & Associates Inc. Holiday Photographers, which takes Santa photos at eight local malls, including Bellevue Square and the downtown Bon-Macy's.

• Come when children are rested and not cranky. Try to do the photo at the beginning of a busy shopping day or downtown outing rather than at the end.

• Don't dress in red. "A girl will wear this beautiful red dress, but when she sits on Santa's lap with his red suit, all the colors flow together," Viydo said. Instead, opt for a contrasting color such as green, white or plaid.

• If you have young children, come dressed and ready to be in the photo. With mom or dad nearby, many tots relax about sitting on a stranger's lap. Or consider a family shot, which can become an annual tradition.

• If a child is frightened of Santa, anger, threats or bribes won't help. Come back next year or accept a crying shot. A sobbing photo documents this developmental stage, after all.

• For the shortest lines, go early in the season, right when the Santa booth opens, on a weekday. There's usually also a weekday lull around 3 p.m. as moms head home to get school-age children. Some locations offer spot-saving tickets on busy days.

• Bring toys and non-messy snacks to keep children entertained in line.

• Don't go overboard when kids are young, setting a precedent of more gifts each year. "If only parents realized how little young children need," said Marie Sherlock, author of "Living Simply with Kids: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting." "Young children can't comprehend it when they get tons of stuff anyway."

• Make traditions, rituals and volunteering the focus of the holidays, rather than gift-giving.

• To curb disappointment, be clear on what gifts won't arrive, despite pleas or wish lists. This might include pets, pricey items or gifts parents don't want, such as a video-game console or TV for a child's room.

• Agree to a white-elephant exchange or draw names with extended family.

• If children request an expensive item, suggest that a group of relatives go together for it, rather than buying smaller individual gifts.

• One family implemented a tradition where children received three gifts: one thing they needed, one thing they wanted and one thing that was a surprise. "They knew what to expect so they were never disappointed," Sherlock said.

• Limit TV viewing to cut down on the ad bombardment that has kids "adding this and adding that" to wish lists.

• Suggest grandparents give gifts such as museum or zoo memberships or certificates worth special outings together.

• Divorced parents should be careful they don't overcompensate with gifts. After discussion with an ex-spouse, divide a child's list, rather than duplicate it.

• Don't worry about "lying" to younger children about Santa. Preschool children uniformly believe in fictional figures such as Santa and the Easter Bunny. "It's important for kids to have fantasy," said Robert Butterworth, a Los Angeles-based child psychologist.

• That said, parents need to be upfront with children about Santa by age 7 or 8. "Parents don't want to shatter the myth," Butterworth said. But often it's a relief to children: "A lot of times, kids have figured it out but don't want to disappoint their parents. Who's keeping the myth for whom?"

• Parents know children have reached the "age of reason" when they start asking logical questions, such as how Santa can deliver so many presents in one night or how reindeer fly. "Kids aren't stupid," Butterworth said. "When adults insist on things that don't make sense, it confuses them."

• Make breaking the news a positive, kind experience with parents, rather than a negative one by teasing peers. "The Santa story is not a lie but something you tell your children as the loving personification of a warm message," said Nancy Robinson, a retired professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington. "And if you get that point across to them while you are gently deflating the story, then they will understand and appreciate. And grow up a little."

• Explain to children that Saint Nicholas does have a historical basis as a real person who gave to others. "Children can now understand that though a physical Santa doesn't plop down on their roof, that doesn't mean the spirit of Christmas doesn't exist," Butterworth said. "Now we're all Santa."

• Don't worry about permanent psychological harm. Dealing with the loss of a fantasy character (it might be easier to start with the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy) helps children develop coping methods for more serious losses, Robinson said.

• Remind older children that since they're in on the secret now, they need to keep it for younger kids. Suggest they help with Santa rituals for younger siblings or cousins.

• Don't be surprised if some kids give up the myth gradually. "Even older elementary-school children may still want to leave out milk and cookies, 'just in case,' " Robinson noted.

Here are some tips for avoiding this late-night Christmas Eve exchange: "Where's the screwdriver? No, the Phillips head! And how about some batteries? No, AAA, not AA!"

• Read the box to figure out what type and how many batteries are required. Open the box and put the batteries in immediately, or tape the batteries to the outside of the box. That way, the right batteries are with the right toy, and the batteries don't end up in the TV clicker instead.

• Assemble the toy before the big day. That way, you have time to find the proper tools, replace any missing or broken parts and call in reinforcements, if necessary. This also prevents a marathon assembly session.

• Once assembled, play with the toy so you know if you really got it together correctly. Hide it at the neighbor's house or in the attic or garage. Avoid the closet temptation — too predictable.

• Practice hooking up a new video-game system to your television while your child is out of the house.

• To avoid frustration with young children — and help keep the momentum of their excitement — open the box and remove restraining plastic ties before you wrap it.

• Consider letting the store assemble larger gifts, such as bicycles. Many do it for an extra fee.

• Though it seems obvious, it still always bears repeating (yes, we mean you, Dads): Read the directions.


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