Forth Worth, Texas Sometimes, it's Mom and Dad who are naughty when they should be nice.
At this time of year, many have relied on the Santa clause: a dire warning that Mom or Dad can notify the jolly man - sometimes even by cell phone - when children won't pick up their toys, clean their room or stop throwing a tantrum.
Every child knows what that means: no presents.
Parents swear by the gimmick, saying sometimes it's the last trick in the bag, but experts say it can confuse kids and even depress them.
"I think it gives a child a sense of badness," said Carol Armga, director of the Priscilla Pond Flawn Child and Family Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. "It could result in a profound sadness depending on a child's temperament.
"Children are excited around the holidays, and if that joy is taken away because they did one bad thing - usually something they didn't really think about as they did it - it's a harsh punishment. All kids lack impulse control."
Clearly one area mother would disagree. On Wednesday evening at a Bedford restaurant, her toddler screamed hysterically as she tried to get him out to the parking lot. When the child refused to budge, she said, "Do you want me to call Santa?"
Grabbing the child's arm as he continued to cry, she whipped out her cell phone and said, "That's it. I'm calling Santa."
"No, no!" he screeched. "Don't do that!"
Jason Keller, a child recipient of the Santa threat who is now a parent, reminisces about his own St. Nick scare.
"My dad is a hunter, and when we were bad once, he painted a dead deer's nose with red reflective paint," said Keller, a Grapevine, Texas, police officer. His father then told the kids that he had killed Rudolph and Santa would not be coming that year.
"My heart was broken because I thought Rudolph led the sled, and without him Santa couldn't make it through the foggy Christmas Eve," he said, laughing.
Santa still made it that year, but Keller said the threat was effective.
"It makes you feel bad and think of the things you didn't even get caught doing," he said.
Keller will probably pull out the trick on his 3-year-old daughter once she's old enough to understand, he said. But he won't threaten her with being arrested, as he has seen many parents do.
Armga suggests that parents give children realistic consequences for poor behavior and then follow through.
But Heidi Adams, like many parents, says she doesn't always have the time for that. With three children, ages 12, 7 and 1, the Grapevine mom said that for those who believe in Santa, the shock tactic really snaps them back into shape.
"There might be better ways to do it," Adams said. "But during the holiday season, when they're out of school and home for a week, other things don't always work. The no-Santa tactic really grabs their attention."