December Holidays:  Is it Okay to Use Threats About Santas Good Bad List For Child Discipline?

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!” 

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.”

As a parenting expert to the media, I often do extra media interviews during the December holidays. The topics usually focus on 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…now” is the only criteria they use to decide which tactic to use.

The Problem

If we take this idea to the extreme, we 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.” Well, yes, that might work, but it’s also disrespectful to the child, overly harsh and abusive!

The Research

Many common parenting practices fall into this 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:

Kohn’s research has consistently found behavior modification techniques to be counterproductive. There have been hundreds of long-term research studies on corporal punishment, but they have traditionally been less conclusive — until recently.

An April, 2010 research study by Elizabeth T. Gershoff, PhD, was published by Phoenix Children’s Hospital in a report called, “Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children.”

This study showed that children who received corporal punishment more than two times a week were more likely to:

  • Score lower on cognitive tests at age three,
  • Be defiant,
  • Demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs,
  • Get easily frustrated,
  • Have more temper tantrums,
  • Lash out physically against others,
  • If not aggressive, children become withdrawn and fearful.
  • Only behave when authority figures were present,
  • Lie and sneak to avoid punishment,
  • Avoid contact with adults who inflict pain, giving those adults less chance to monitor or influence them.

The 2010 study was significant, because it was the first study to control for the most common risk factors that are most often associated with these outcomes, so it was clear that the corporal punishment was the only reason for the outcomes.

In general layman’s terms, valid research studies such as this one consistent show that:

  • Punishment might work in the short-run, but has not been shown to get consistently reliable, positive results long-term.
  • Discipline is equally effective in the short-run and has shown to get only consistently reliable, positive results long-term.

Your Choice

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.

My Suggestion

Instead of repeating yourself or counting to three (which teaches children they don’t have to respond until you get to three) use more effective child discipline during the December Holidays.  Here are the top four-star tools I suggest in my book, The Parent’s Toolshop: The Universal Blueprint® for Building a Healthy Family (© 2000.)

  • Show children how to make amends. For example, if they spill it, they clean it up.
  • Offer choices. Alter the focus of the choices as issues shift. First choice, the kids can settle down and keep shopping or you may need to leave and skip any fun activities already planned for that outing. If they continue to fuss, tell them their behavior is telling you they have decided to leave. That choice has been made. New choice is when or how you leave. They can walk out or you may need to carry them (if they are small enough).
  • Take action. Decide what you will do, not what you will make children do. Respectfully follow through, with or without words, with reasonable, related actions.
  • Allow natural consequences. They happen if parents do nothing to rescue. Only use if they are quick and safe. Ask, “What did you learn?”
  • Use Problem Solving to prevent, reveal, or decide discipline. “I am concerned about (misbehavior). What can we do about that?”

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!

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Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE is the author of the award-winning book, The Parent’s Toolshop and president of Parent’s Toolshop Consulting, where she oversees an international network of Toolshop® trainers. She has 30 years experience as a top-rated speaker and parenting expert to the media worldwide, including serving as the Co-Producer and Parenting Expert for the Emmy-nominated Ident-a-Kid television series. Currently, she hosts the Parents Tool Talk radio show and is a parenting expert columnist for Chic Mom magazine. She has produced almost 100 multimedia resources, which are available at her award-winning website, www.ParentsToolshop.com. 

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