How to visit Santa: tips from the pros

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDDecember 2, 2013 

Addison Huber, 4, tells Mr. and Mrs. Claus her Christmas wish list, which includes a yellow rubber ducky, at a Bellingham Childcare and Learning Center pancake fundraiser in 2012.

NICK GONZALES — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

As the weather gets colder, and snow starts to pile up on the mountain, winter break at school is drawing closer. For kids who celebrate Christmas, this time of year reminds them to be on their best behavior so they don't wind up on Santa's naughty list. Some kids write letters to Santa with their hopeful wish lists, while others take a trip to see the jolly old guy in person. A trip to visit Santa and his elves can be fun, but some children may find the experience intimidating or scary. Santa Jim Skinner, a member of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas and Santa America, Santa Rod Larson, and Santa Jim LeMaster, all of whom have worked at the Ferndale Heritage Society's Olde Fashioned Christmas celebration at Pioneer Park, weighed in with advice for parents from their experiences. Here are a few tips on how to prepare kids for their turn on Santa's lap to make the visit fun for everyone.

Talk about it beforehand.

Santa Larson says he hasn't seen many negative experiences in his time. That's probably due to the fact most kids are usually there because they want to see Santa, he says.

"If parents talk to kids and tell them it's a good thing, for most of them it's a very good interaction," Larson says.

Keeping the surprise out of it may make visits for younger children easier on everyone.

Keep young kids from seeing Santa until the last minute.

"Some of the younger kids really want to go see Santa, but when they get there, they're scared to death because of this big fat guy with a white beard sitting there," Santa Skinner says.

In his experience, Skinner says kids tend to do better if they don't spend a lot of time worrying about the visit.

"Parents should try to keep the kids from seeing Santa until the last minute so they can get a good picture."

Keep it clean.

Santa likes to see clean kids, says Santa Jim LeMaster.

For the youngest visitors, fear, long waits, or simply the call of nature can create a messy situation while waiting in line.

"If a child has soiled themselves, please clean it up before they get there, so it doesn't ruin the experience for the next child," Skinner says.

Mrs. Claus does a good job of scanning the line ahead of time and keeping an eye out for any trouble, he says, but parents can help a lot by taking care of their own kids and being prepared for accidents.

Know when to move on.

Kids are unpredictable. They may love the experience, or they may not.

If there is time, and there is not a big line, Skinner says he can usually talk a child into climbing onto his lap.

However, if there's a huge queue, be courteous to the other people waiting; Santa is only able to work for a limited time, and he'd like to get as many people through the line as possible.

"Don't force them to do it if they don't want to," he says. "It's not fair to the next person in line if you spend 20 minutes trying to talk them onto your lap."

Kids between the ages of 2 and 5 years old are the most unsure and doubtful of visits, Lemaster says.

"Parents shouldn't push their kids to do it if they don't want to," LeMaster says. "One thing I won't do is reach out for a child: the child has to come to me. A 3-year-old seeing a strange person like that reaching for them can be terrifying and there's no need for that."

Know when to give up and move on to the next holiday adventure, and remember: you can always try again later.

Remember to be kind and enjoy the magic.

During the holidays, Skinner reminds people to be courteous and caring.

"It's a season of joy," he says. "Just be kind to others."

Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves just want to make sure every child has the best experience possible.

Larson, who has a natural beard, as does Skinner, says the kids enjoy tugging at it as a test.

"A lot of kids pull and they say, 'Mom! This Santa has a real beard,'" he says. "It's a magical job. To see the looks on their faces when they see Santa, it just makes you feel good."

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