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Christmas Behavior Modification

St. Nick came and went.  He’s a jolly old guy, for sure.  But also a bit of a control freak.  What’s the deal with keeping the list of who’s naughty and who’s nice?  The spirit of the season, if I understand it correctly, is about giving.  A gift for good behavior is not a gift, but a token of behavior modification.  A true gift is unconditional.  Take a tip from Grandfather Frost, the other jolly old guy from up North (from the Slavic tradition).  He also comes over once a year, on New Year.  But, unlike St. Nick, Father Frost keeps no lists: naughty or nice, you get a little something from him anyway.  Now, that’s giving, that’s love, of the unconditional kind.  And – for whatever it’s worth – in my opinion, Grandfather Frost keeps a better diet: instead of milk and cookies, he likes a shot of vodka and a pickle to chase it with.

And let’s face it, this kind of Christmas-style behavior modification is a futile project.  From September onward, most of us desperately keep “threatening” our kids with the naughty list status and getting but a lump of coal, but come Christmas morning we still shower our kids with all kinds of gifts.  In so doing we profoundly undermine the potency of behavior modification, an otherwise legitimate parenting method.  We teach our kids to not take us seriously, to disregard our invocations of consequence.  So, my suggestion is simply this: next Christmas season consider ditching the list and unhitching your parental behavior-mod projects from Christmas spirit of (unconditional) love.

Christmas Behavior Modification

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2017). Christmas Behavior Modification. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 30 Dec 2017
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