Empty threats: A tried and true behavior modification tool at the holidays

“That’s it! I’m calling Santa,” I firmly state as I pick up my cellphone and dial.

Kendall is sitting in the corner, in time out, rolling around and asking for a drink and her ChapStick back.

The ChapStick she had just rolled up entirely, and smashed into the table in anger after I told her to roll it back down.  

We require silence and calmness while in time out and I was hoping my threat about Santa would snap her back from the brink of a deepening meltdown.

I put the call on speaker and let her hear it ring.

In reality, I actually call her father, but I knew he wouldn’t pick up because he was at practice, so she had a good minute to sit up straight and stop talking.

Once relaxed, I am able to get down on her level and tell her that smashing ChapSticks out of anger is not good behavior.

I remind her that Santa is coming soon and he would be rewarding her for being good and listening to Mommy with lots of presents.

“You want Santa to come, don’t you?”

“Yes! I’m a good girl! I listen to Mommy. Sorry for breaking Mommy’s ChapStick!”

Kendall gives me a hug and then bounces off to the other side of the playroom ready to start fresh.

Now, what am I going to do to keep her in check once Christmas is over?

I don’t remember needing to threaten her to behave any other time of year. But, in the last few weeks, I find myself telling her to finish her dinner, to stop touching her brother’s eye balls, to share with her cousin — or else Santa won’t come.

Perhaps it is an easy parenting out.

I know I’m not the only mom come December who reminds her child that Santa and his elves are watching to see if little girls and boys are being naughty or nice. This is a tried and true behavior modification tool.

This is the first year that, as she is almost 3, Kendall understands who Santa is and that he will bring her lots of presents Christmas morning. This is the first year my threats make a difference.

How many years will I have to threaten to tell Santa about bad behavior before she realizes Santa’s going to come anyway?

Because I would never cancel Christmas. It is my favorite holiday.

My childhood is filled with fond memories of being gathered inside a warm home that almost glowed due to the crackling fire and the darkness of days due to storms. The layer of snow outside created this tranquil silence. The world was at peace during Christmas.

As children, my brother and I would be the first ones downstairs.

My stomach would perform somersaults as I witnessed the evidence that Santa had actually stopped by.

He had eaten the cookies and drank the milk. And behold, there under the glittering tree was new mounds of gifts that hadn’t been there the night before.

Once my parents finally woke up and prepared their hot coffee, my family gathered around the pungent evergreen tree. Christmas carols would start to play and that was my cue to start passing out red and green wrapped gifts that crinkled underneath the pressure of my fingertips.

We always saved opening our gifts from Santa for last.

His gifts would surely be our favorite and we would play with them the remainder of the day.

Later, my Mom and I would bake cookies and decorate them. Then, we would stuff ourselves with baked ham and scalloped potatoes.

Since marrying an Australian, and starting our family, we have spent winters and the holiday season in Australia. I enjoy escaping the freezing cold ice and snow.

However, I miss the traditional Christmas that I grew up with.

Kendall does not correlate the smell of pine needles with the essence of the holiday spirit. Australian’s celebrate with fake trees.

She does not associate Christmas with being trapped inside with her family playing with new toys.

Instead, Australians link Christmas with being with family and getting outside for some recreational fun because December is summertime.

Every year, so far, at my in-laws, we eat homemade lasagne and drink homemade wine (my husband’s grandmother grew up in Italy and immigrated to Australia in her twenties.)

Then we barbecue all types of meat — most especially lamb, lamb and more lamb.

Sides include salads and roasted vegetables. Desserts include trifles (a cold, layered dish made with custard, Jell-O, sponge cake and whipped cream), as well as pavlovas (meringue filled with cream).  

It is much too hot outside to have an oven going all day inside.

So, as much as I threaten Kendall that Santa will be a no-show this year, she will most definitely receive a visit from the jolly man in red.

We will leave out cookies and a drink — Australian tradition calls for an alcoholic beverage to be left — for him and by morning they will have been eaten.

She will witness the blossoming of gifts underneath the perfect fake tree, and hopefully she will find joy in ripping through the paper revealing her treats underneath.

But, unlike me, she won’t be stuck inside playing or baking, she will be out back in her bathing suit, grabbing a skewer of shrimp and mushrooms off the barbecue before taking a dip in the pool to cool off.

And I’ll be behind her telling her, “don’t run.” And, “please stop dropping food in the pool!”

But, hopefully, when she looks back on this magical time of year when she is older, she will only remember being spoiled while in the company of her family, enjoying great food and the warmth of the summer sun.
Andra Kucerak Guccione is a Jefferson resident.

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