Ever called Santa on his cell phone?

Desperate times call for desperate measures when it comes to kids misbehaving around the holidays

Getting my son to be motivated for school in the morning is always a challenge. (He's only 4, so I cringe at for my future.) But the other morning, he gave me so much trouble that I did what any mother would do when pressed for time and patience: I played the Santa card.

"I'm calling Santa right now on his cell phone," I snapped, grabbing my BlackBerry. "He's VERY busy these days, and I have a feeling he's NOT gonna be happy about this!"

"Nooooooooo!" my son yelled, reaching for my arm. "I want to be a good boy!"

"Then put on your boots and let's go to school," I said.

"No," he said in protest.

"OK, fine," I said, picking up the phone and dialing nobody.

As I watched my son try to fumble with his boots and stop me from calling the big guy, I wondered how much damage I was doing to his emotional well being.

But I felt a little better about making the call after posting the incident on my Facebook status.

"I text and e-mail Santa," commented Jenny.

"I called Santa and my kids' response was, 'Can I talk to him too??!' " added Erica.

"That's what Elf on the Shelf is for," said Gayle.

Elf on the Shelf?

Gayle explained that there are little elves for sale that you can put in your child's room acting as Santa's eyes and ears. (There's a whole website explaining the tradition here: http://www.elfontheshelf.com.)

But while several dozen Facebook friends condone this behavior, it's not favored by psychologists.

"Labeling the child as 'bad' makes them feel badly about themselves," explains Dr. Christine Costello, a clinical psychologist in Evanston. "As parents, we are trying to teach our children the difference between 'bad' behavior, or behavior we label as rude, uncooperative, or oppositional. The child is always good, but the behavior isn't always good."

Costello says threatening not to give presents days away from Christmas is too far away from the actual event to have meaning to a small child. Also, depending on the age or personality of the child, that threat can seem pretty traumatic, considering Santa is supposed to be jolly and love children.

"It would be a more immediate motivator to suggest the child will lose out on some fun activity later that day, such as making cookies, helping to decorate or wrap gifts, or taking part in a holiday craft project," suggests Costello.

She also pointed out that if the child has been displaying good behavior most of the time, it can be emotionally damaging to threaten to call Santa only when the child is acting out.

"Perhaps they are cranky because they have been getting less sleep, eating too much sugar, and too hyped up with all the excitement," says Costello. "Isn't the spirit of Christmas about giving gifts, material and non-material, from the heart, and not about rewards?"

Oh yeah.

And as Geri reminded me on Facebook: "A mom's gotta do ..."

jweigel@tribune.com

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