The Great Red Jolly Conundrum: What to do about Santa Claus?

As much as you try to avoid it, there’s a big cheery man in a red suit around every corner. You can’t escape him. Eventually, our kids are going to ask about him, like who he is, how he can be breaking and entering without getting arrested, or how is it possible to deliver all these presents in one night?

And the biggest question of all: “Is Santa real?”.
Well, Virginia, let’s break this down before we jump to any conclusions.

Kids and Their Brain

The question of Santa’s existence usually comes when your kid is between 6-8 years old. During that time, there is a big cognitive shift from living in a world of pretend to entering the land of logic, reasoning, and abstract ideas. This explains why your child suddenly wants to know the ins and outs of Santa’s logistics and will no longer take “because it’s magic” as an answer. In addition, kids in this age range are beginning to consider other people, their feelings, and their thoughts, which is why they’ll question their own prior beliefs (and yours) when it contradicts what a classmate or teacher said in school. In this phase of cognitive growth, it’s best to have the sit-down conversation about who Santa really is.

Coming Clean

This may be a hard discussion, but don’t overthink or get overly sensitive about it. How we respond to their questions about Santa can turn an innocent inquiry into an emotional confrontation or a bittersweet letdown with no Christmas magic.

If you’re concerned that you’ll ruin your child’s life by explaining to them that Santa isn’t “real”, consider the following research points:

  • One study found that children generally discover the truth about Santa around age 7, but predominantly felt a sense of pride over making the discovery.
  • Research shows that even when children discover that Santa isn’t a physical person, they still like the idea of him.
  • Children between the ages of 7-12 years can simultaneously view Santa in two different ways: a pleasing concept that helps them enjoy Christmas and as someone who is not tangible.

By the time your kid reaches the ages of 10-11 years, they probably will no longer believe in Santa Claus. This is developmentally appropriate as they become more aware of themselves and reality. They may, however, will still want to continue celebrating the Santa traditions from when they were little.

How to have “The Talk”

Why do they ask? – Knowing why they’re asking about Santa can help determine the best way to answer them. They may have overheard some Santa rumors at school, could be asking permission to still believe in him, or they may even be testing how trustworthy you really are. A simple question, many ways to respond to it.

What do they think? – Here’s a Jedi mind trick. Ask them if they think Santa is real and why. This gives insight on where your child is on the belief of him and how to move forward. They may believe that he and Mrs. Claus reside in the North Pole as the elves create the latest and greatest games we find at Target or Amazon. OR, they may say there’s no way he can exist because he’s too big to get down a chimney undetected. Sometimes, your child may not have a response because they never really thought about it before.

Are they ready for the truth? – If your child expresses that they’d be sad or devastated if Santa isn’t real, perhaps they aren’t ready for this shattering revelation. If they want you to confirm what they’ve already known, then maybe it’s time to tell the truth. Consider the age and stage of your kid when determining your response. Allowing a 4- to 6-year-old to believe in Santa a bit longer will not do them any harm. But as they put the pieces to the Santa puzzle together when they reach an appropriate age, it may be best to let them in on the secret.

Be Ready – Despite all the preparation you may have done to have this talk, kids can take this news in many different directions. Some may feel relief in knowing the truth while others can feel angry because they feel like they’ve been lied to. Understand that emotions are complex and that children are processing this new information. Whatever the initial response may be, be empathetic and understanding. Remind them that although Santa isn’t real in the way they expected, it doesn’t mean that the spirit of Christmas doesn’t exist.

Santa 2.0 – Once the cat is out of the bag, there is no putting it back…and that’s okay. Your child can now officially be part of spreading good cheer and kindness to others, keeping the spirit of Santa alive. You can let them in on your secrets and even let them help you create the holiday magic for friends and family. Being part of the magic, however, means that your new initiate shouldn’t ruin the joy for others who may not be ready for the truth. Advise them to be kind to those that still believe and to allow their parents/guardians explain the reality of Santa.

Whatever you do, do not:

  • Lie to prevent tears – it’s okay for your child to be disappointed and sad
  • Continue to lie to avoid feeling like a liar– this will make you seem more untrustworthy
  • Destroy all their wonderment – just because they question Santa, doesn’t mean they are ready to know the truth about the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy
  • Try to change their mind – your child’s belief in Santa is their own, not yours or your feelings regarding it

Talking about Santa can serve as an opportunity to update Christmas traditions. Rather than thinking of themselves and what gifts they’ll get from Santa, they’ll consider what presents to get others. Helping to carry on the joy of Christmas where Santa left off guarantees that he, indeed, is real.

Sources:
When Your Child Asks, Is Santa Real? (psychcentral.com)
Cyr C. (2002). Do reindeer and children know something that we don’t? Pediatric inpatients’ belief in Santa Claus. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne167(12), 1325–1327.
Is Santa real? The best way to respond when your kids ask (care.com)
Cognitive Development in 6-7 Year Olds | Scholastic | Parents

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