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Overcoming the fear of Santa

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 02:47

A visit to Santa can be a terrifying experience for some kids, according to a leading expert in anxiety and stress disorders. But facing the fear in stages or chatting with Saint Nick over the Internet are two ways to make a meeting with Father Christmas a jolly one. (Videography by Jillian Kitchener) Natalie Armstrong reports.

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STORY: Meeting Santa can be stressful for children as well as their parents eager for a photo op. But seeing jolly old Saint Nick in person can be fun for everyone, according to Martin Antony, a leading expert in anxiety and psychology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Children when they're visiting Santa experience a wide range of feelings. So, some kids are very excited, very happy to see Santa, but a small number of kids are quite terrified when they see Santa." (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Kids with a fear of Santa may be ambivalent. So on the one hand they may want to see Santa, they may want to ask for certain presents, they may want to get that picture, that candy cane. On the other hand, they may be terrified of seeing Santa." (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) PAUL, DEWLING, MAN DRESSED AS SANTA, SAYING: "A lot of kids, they're not scared of Santa in general, they're scared of the facial hair. Whether it's a real beard, or a pretend beard." (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "On the one hand, Santa is a stranger. On the other hand, Santa is a familiar character so children are certainly familiar with Santa before they meet Santa for the first time and parents are there. Parents are defining that as a safe situation. But for some children, that unfamiliarity has a very strong effect on fear." If a face-to-face close-up with Santa is too much for tots, speaking to Santa using virtual technology such as Skype or websites like Magic Santa dot C-A, can help. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: Nowadays there are opportunities to visit with Santa in new ways - virtual Santas for example. And in some ways, having some distant between Santa and the child will help reduce fear in the short-term, so in that way it's helpful. On the other hand, if the child is afraid of the situation, NOT encountering the situation may not help the child in terms of getting over the fear. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: For a child who's mildly afraid and sort of wants to see Santa but is apprehensive about doing that, then just taking it slowly is the best thing to do. And taking it as far as the child is willing to take it. So a child may not be willing to sit on Santa's lap, but a child might be willing to stand beside Santa. For parents worried about the long-term effect of their child being afraid of Santa, Antony says have no fear. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "The best way to overcome fear if it's important to overcome fear, is through exposure. Through confronting feared situations and young children may need incentives to carry out exposure because they may not be invested in getting over the fear as much as their parents are invested. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) MARTIN ANTONY, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, RYERSON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "And the other important thing for parents to remember is that it's not essential to get over every fear. There are a lot of fears (and the fear of Santa may be one of them) that children will outgrow on their own, or the fear doesn't really interfere that much with the child's life and parents need to not push in those cases."

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Overcoming the fear of Santa

Thursday, December 20, 2012 - 02:47

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