Why My Daughter Won’t Be On The Nice List

We Need to Stop Bribing Our Kids for Christmas

Originally published on Medium.

My daughter is usually cooperative and sweet but something about the holidays turns her into a little Grinch.

I honestly think the pressure and attention drawn to being “good” and “on the nice list” is actually bringing out the opposite. I don’t even use those terms. I don’t do Elf on the Shelf and I don’t talk Santa — I know, I am such a Scrooge. But I really don’t have to because this messaging is everywhere: Christmas movies and songs, at school, at her friends’ houses, and from the adults in her life who like to use this time of year as leverage for good behavior. Santa is busy making a list and checking it twice. The creep is even watching when you are sleeping. I mean, if that doesn’t encourage grace and peace, then what does?

In my daughter’s classroom they have an Elf on the Shelf. It’s like a silly, zany little troublemaker who is simultaneously acclimatizing the children to the idea that Big Brother is always watching. The elf’s appearance coincided with the time I started getting notes home from her teacher because she is talking during class. Coincidence? Maybe… but look at that smug look on his face — I know he’s up to something…

We’ve talked about the talking. I now have to meet with the teacher to talk about the talking, too. But hey, I get it, I taught preschool. This time of year the kids are super excited and ready for Christmas break and presents, not tests and lessons. And the teachers are just as ready. If Santa threats are the only ammunition we have to get the children to walk quietly in line, then, by God, it’s Santa threats they are going to get!

It’s difficult to have self-control at Christmastime. There’s a lot of waiting and anticipation. I am the adult, therefore I am supposed to have self-control but I also get stressed and moody during the holidays. There’s this expectation that things are supposed to go a certain way, be a certain way: the house, the tree, the food, the presents, the feelings. It can get tedious and doesn’t always bring out the best in me so it’s not surprising that she’s struggling as well.

The Naughty List is a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more adults try to draw the focus to “being good”, the more stress and tension we breed and the more magnified the bad behavior feels. And, even though I intentionally avoid the Santa stuff, they still get indoctrinated into it. I now baptize you in the name of the Snowman, The Elf, and The Red Nosed Reindeer.

The more adults try to draw the focus to “being good”, the more stress and tension we breed and the more magnified the bad behavior feels.

If you want to threaten your kids and really put the fear of the big red man into them, there’s an app for that. Literally, you can download an app to send them a personalized, stern warning from Santa himself. No wonder they keep crying for the Christmas pictures. You can even extend your gift-related threats well into the new year by threatening to revoke and take away the presents you already gave! Make it an all-year-long kind of thing.

The Christmas pressure is so pervasive that I sometimes catch myself falling into it and thinking with the Naughty/Nice mentality. Last night, during a rare but explosive tantrum my daughter was having, I caught myself threatening to take away presents under the tree. I had to stop and think about what I was saying. Do I want my Christmas giving to be conditional or an expression of my love?

Check out this fun idea: “Wrap a few fake presents each year and when your kids are naughty you take one of those fake presents and burn it in the fireplace!” This is actual advice I have seen. Now that’s Christmas spirit — not manipulative mind games at all. I don’t like to lie to my children which explains why, whenever my daughter brings up Santa, I say vague things like, “that’s how the story goes” and let her make up her own mind. If we really need to use Christmas as leverage for our children to cooperate, then it’s probably time to work on our family dynamics because something is amiss.

Do I want my Christmas giving to be conditional or an expression of my love?

The gifts are already there, taking one would only heighten the emotions and anger on both sides. So I just let my kids get away with whatever they want, with no consequences? Heck no. We do have consequences like taking away the tablet or no TV on weekends because those are privileges… but Christmas gifts are different. The gifts under the tree demonstrate my unconditional love my children. Like 5 handsome poets once said, there are “no strings attached.” They don’t have to earn them and they don’t need to be anxious about losing them.

The next time I catch myself falling into this Christmas pressure mindset, someone please slap me with a roll of festive wrapping paper. I want my children to lighten up and actually enjoy the holidays — without all the pressure, bribery, and guilt. So why won’t my daughter be on the Nice List… because there is no stinkin’ nice list.