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Charly Haley, Published December 21 2012

Santas give tips on how to calm anxious kids

FARGO – When Dave Sandbeck walks up to houses on Christmas Eve, he’s all decked out in boots, a belt and a red Santa suit, topped off with the famous red and white hat.

He’s hoping children will be running toward him and laughing when he comes in the door, happy to see a Santa Claus – even if he is not the real deal from the North Pole.

But not all children are happy to see Santa. Some are shy and afraid, said Sandbeck, 61, a “rent-a-Santa” for private events since 1978.

For the benefit of others who will be pretending to be St. Nick in the coming days, Sandbeck and Randy Long – owner of Santa Magic, the company that brings Santa Claus to the West Acres Mall – offered up some tricks of the trade for calming children who do not take well to the jolly old elf.

Give them candy

A Santa should always keep candy in his bag, Sandbeck said. “Sometimes just offering a handful of candy will make them less apprehensive.”

Pay attention

Sandbeck said he often wins over frightened children paying “special attention” – listening to them and complimenting them.

Be cheerful

Long often gives kids high-fives or plays games with them when they’re afraid of Santa.

Get kids involved

“If you make the children part of things, it makes them less apprehensive,” Sandbeck said.

That’s why he often asks shyer children to help him pass out gifts.

Long also said it’s important to get kids involved.

“Kids are very task oriented,” he said, so it helps to give them a task like telling Santa Claus what they want for Christmas.

The hard cases

Though he’s usually able to win over all the children, some are afraid of Santa no matter what, Sandbeck said. An insurmountable Santa fear is most common in children too young to have learned much about him yet, he said.

Long agreed, saying that nine times out of 10, frightened children are between 18 and 36 months old.

Some parents are disappointed when their kids are afraid of Santa, Sandbeck said, but most understand it can be strange for children.

Long said some shy away from Santa not because they’re afraid, but because they’re “starstruck.”

“It’s like Santa Claus is the biggest rock star of the moment. They just don’t know what to say,” he said.

Occasionally, Sandbeck runs into kids who don’t believe in Santa Claus.

“And there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “You can joke, and you can tell them things like ‘Help your parents,’ and ‘Brush your teeth before bed.’ ”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Charly Haley at (701) 235-7311