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Threatening Coal in Your Stocking as a Holiday Parenting Technique

During this time of year, it is easy to get stressed out as a parent. There is so much to do: buying presents, holiday celebrations, wrapping presenting, decorating, baking, etc. It is easy to come to the end of your rope much more quickly than at other times of the year. I find many parent use the threat of Santa, or the “elf on a shelf” as a way to keep their children in check.

There are pros and cons to this way of holiday parenting. The pros are that many children feel that if the elf sees them misbehaving, then they won’t get the presents they really want. It is a reminder to children that there is a consequence for their misbehavior. It is also very convenient when your energy is only a thread left.

The cons of using Santa and the elves is that it is an external magical force. There will come a day when the children no longer believe and you will want them to behave because it’s just the right thing to do. If they feel there is no external reinforcer, then they have no “reason” to follow the rules or behave unless they believe it is right. Likewise, when December 26 rolls around, you have no external force to assist you until November or December rolls around.

I suggest that you reinforce good behaviors in the manner that you do all year round, and not change just in the month of December. This helps kids internalize a sense of right and wrong, even if it’s a slight bit harder.

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