(Parenting.com) -- Jill Berry, a mom in Woodbine, MD, recalls her toddler's first photo with Santa. "She was fine in line, then hysterical when I handed her over," Berry recalls. The resulting photo: "a red-faced toddler, a bewildered Santa, and me, on his lap, wearing a ski jacket and an old shirt." Oh, the memories.
Parenting.com: Funniest scared of Santa photos
It's a ritual of the season: taking your child to the mall so he can tell Santa Claus what he wants for Christmas, and scoring an adorable photo of him sitting on the jolly one's lap. But not all kids are game. Some take one look at the fat old guy with that big white beard...and freak out.
Think about it: This ginormous, hairy guy shows up once a year and you thrust your kid onto his lap, says child psychologist Jonathan Pochyly, Ph.D., of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The little guys have no concept that they're going to get something in return, and the bigger ones think he's been looking in their windows and compiling a "naughty" list. Of course, some kids do cooperate for the photo op, and yours may be one. Just in case, here's how to avoid a mall meltdown:
To avoid that stress this year, experienced Santa-snappers suggest you:
Do a dry run: Days before, give your child a glimpse of St. Nick from afar, says Amy Stone, owner of Jady Images in Miami, Florida. "When you come back for the actual photo, he'll be more familiar with what to expect."
Parenting.com: How to have the "Is Santa real?" talk
Carry supplies: Snacks and toys are key. Hungry kids are likelier to act out.
Distract: "Put a piece of tape on your child's finger if he gets fidgety," says Marlboro, New Jersey, photog Jill Caren. "Sometimes that's distracting enough that he'll forget Santa's even there."
Present his requests: Tie up his wish list with a bow, and have him hand it over, suggests Heather Dillon, a Scottsdale, Arizona, photog. "It places the attention on Santa, not on him."
Think narrative gold: As the Santa at Holiday World, a theme park in Santa Claus, Indiana, says: "Sometimes those unposed moments make the best photos."
Be positive: Be careful not to paint a scary picture of Saint Nick. If you prep your child by saying "Don't be afraid, Santa's not going to hurt you," you've introduced a possibility that may never have occurred to him, notes Pochyly. Instead, talk about how fun it will be, and show your child a picture of a sibling or a cousin perched happily on Santa's lap.
Bring a lovey: Life's easier with a stuffed bear by your side—and you can always put some reindeer antlers on him.
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