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In addition to all the traditional holiday things jolly old Santa Claus does for us at this time of year, some child development experts see him as an extra-special, powerful force for children ages 3 to 5.

Psychiatrist Mary Ann Linz Agar of Philadelphia's Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital says a belief in Santa Claus for this age group can help in working through family concerns like moving or getting together with far-flung family members.

Santa gives children a sense of continuity between old and new homes, and among relatives like distant cousins and grandparents, Dr. Agar says.

Santa also provides a special link between parent and child if parents enhance the legend with special activities like leaving Santa Claus cookies and milk on Christmas Eve or turning on the tree lights for Santa.

Dr. Agar believes such activities are remembered and cherished by children long after they no longer believe in Santa.

Dr. Agar, who was interviewed by American Baby magazine, warns that because Santa is such a positive figure in children's eyes, parents should avoid making threats connected with him. Resist the temptation, she says, to tell children that Santa won't leave them presents if they're naughty.

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