Over the years he has been called many names by many children — Saint Nick, The Jolly Old Elf, Pére Noel, or as my own outspoken toddler once said, the red fat man. December marks the month where children see many variations of Santa Claus everywhere they go. From restaurants to the bell ringers at the grocery store, they are confronted with the image of Father Christmas.

While older children are often excited to see the bringer of the presents and may have a list a mile long, many younger children experience a sense of dread and downright fear of visiting someone they view as a complete stranger.

Kristie Magnuski had a little one that never wanted to see Santa until he turned 5.

“I didn’t want his photo to be taken with Santa if it meant he would be screaming and crying,” she said.

Her method was to wait until her son was ready. Her family waved at Santa from a distance when her son was 1 and 2 and only took pictures of her little one next to the Christmas tree. A few positive, short interactions with him at ages 3 and 4 in a more intimate setting than a local Santa breakfast or a shopping center led to him finally being excited to see Santa this year.

“I don’t regret or miss that I don’t have photos from earlier years,” Magnuski said.

Another mom from Spartanburg said her daughter “flat out hated any costumed character and wouldn’t ever go closer to Santa than to wave.”

“It wasn’t until she was 6 that Santa became someone she wanted to visit and only then it was because we visited him in the mall and somehow, as if by magic, he knew her name.”

Eva Mady of Greenville recalls that her oldest daughter has always had an issue with men with beards, so a visit with Santa was out of the question from the beginning.

“I think a lot of small children rely on being able to see a face properly to recognize expressions,” Mady said. “For them, a person with a big beard is kind of hard to tell if they are friendly.”

For Mady’s family, they think part of her oldest daighter’s aversion is due to sensory processing issues and are content not to push visits with Santa. Her youngest doesn’t have sensory processing issues and never had the same aversion.

I decided to get some feedback from the big man himself and interviewed the Haywood Mall Santa.

He said while you should never force a child to sit with Santa, he is an expert at making children feel comfortable talking with him. He suggests telling children ahead of time about the visit and being willing to be in the picture, too.

“Children often sit with their parents or even next to me to capture an unforgettable picture,” he said.

The Haywood Mall Santa spends a considerable amount of time during the month of December “meeting a lot of really good children in the Upstate,” he said.

Since he admits to having centuries of experience, his final word on the subject of bringing little ones to meet him was simple.

“I welcome all children of all ages and abilities,” Santa said. “I’ve been waiting all year to meet them and hear their wish list.”

And if they just like to observe from afar, that is OK, too.

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