So this Santa concept is an odd one. Last year, Alex was petrified of anything to do with Santa - the concept of a strange guy in our house, men dressed up as Santa, the loud Ho-ho-hoing, he didn't want a bar of it. This year, he's fascinated to know the nuts and bolts of it. I've kept the whole idea very low profile because I know that it could bring up some very tricky questions. Although I'm not opposed to bribery per se, I'm not sure that I want it used for the next 2 months as a way of keeping Alex in line when eventually he'll realise that the whole thing's a ruse because there's no way he's going to end up with no presents. Also, and I know this is a stretch for a 3 year old, I'm uncomfortable with the whole idea that the 'better' behaved you are, the more presents you get.
A friend of mine who was visiting inadvertently opened the can of worms. Thinking she was doing me a favour, she told Alex that if he was good, Santa would bring him lots of presents, but if he was naughty, he wouldn't get any. Furthermore, she added, Santa would know if he'd been good or bad because he could see what Alex was up to all the time. Alex trotted off and let the novelty of this idea roll around in his mind for a while. My friend looked at me with some smugness and told me I could thank her later for sorting out my child's behaviour at least until Christmas.
A few hours later (after my friend had left, of course) it came to pass (inevitably!) that Alex's curiousity was peaked. "Mum." he started, "Eddie whacked me the other day. Does that mean Santa's not coming to him?" I tried to explain that Santa kind of takes an aggregate of your general behaviour, and if it's mostly good then that's probably ok, and as I'm not Eddie's mum, or Santa, I have no idea what's in store for Eddie. (How do I explain that some kids are too poor to have Christmas presents even though they're not naughty? Is a need-to-know basis thing?)
"OK," he continued, "so what if I'm good when I'm 4 or 5? Then can I still get presents this year?" I explained that it's not a buy now, pay later system.
"What if I try reaaally, really hard, to be good, but sometimes I'm not?" I could see he was trying to sort out the boundaries of this thing, make the idea a little more concrete. (His dad's an engineer, he can't help it, it's genetic). We settled on the idea that he would try to be as nice to every one as he possibly could, and that there was a very high likelihood that Santa would indeed bring him a present. I left the whole discussion about 'good' and 'naughty/bad' for another day. Usually I try to focus on the emotion he's feeling (angry/sad/happy) rather than good/bad/naughty behaviour but it's going to come from other sources so that's a discussion for another day.
So the 'be good or Santa won't come' line lasted approximately 2 hours before it was thoroughly trounced by my analytical little boy.