Ho Ho Horrible: When Your Kid is Scared of Santa

For some, Santa phobia can spark a Christmas crisis.

ByABC News
December 20, 2010, 2:11 PM

Dec. 21, 2010— -- At age 2, Christopher Texler couldn't wait to meet Santa. For days, he had heard all about the jolly, jelly-bellied man who hails from the North Pole. He watched patiently as, one by one, his daycare mates were hoisted onto Santa's knee. But when it came his turn, Christopher was petrified.

"The look on his face was one of desperate terror," recalled Christopher's mom, Kirsten Texler, who has the photo to prove it. "He just lost it!"

Christopher's reaction was visceral, Kirsten said. "It was like he was allergic to Santa."

But just 20 minutes after he screamed, cried and clawed his way out of Santa's lap, Christopher returned to his Santa books and crafts as though nothing had happened.

Christopher's reaction is surprisingly common. Who hasn't seen the photo of the screaming kid on Santa's knee?

Margaret Richards, PhD, a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says it's normal for young children to be wary of strangers – especially ones so strangely dressed.

"We really work with kids on not talking to strangers and being cautious about those kinds of things, and that all goes out the window at Christmas time," Richards says.

Chalking the episode up to stranger anxiety, Kirsten hoped Christopher would grow out of his fear of Santa. But now, at age 7, the Vail, Colo., native still trembles at the sight of St. Nick.

"We came around the corner in a large store, and there was Santa," Kirsten said. "[Christopher] crawled under my skirt and just crumpled."

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is perhaps more widely accepted than the fear of Santa. But the figures share similar disconcerting features, including their large stature, abnormal dress and covered faces.

"He's fine with clowns," Kirsten said of Christopher. "He's a happy, easygoing, smart little kid. I've never seen him react this way with anything or anyone else!"