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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to two cheeky young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.
I’m going to share with you my general thoughts and approach to Santa Claus – and how I navigate the truth about Santa with my children. Parents often wonder how to respond to questions about Santa? Another common concern is how to prevent our kids from ruining it for other children if you’re deciding not to participate in Santa Claus.
I’m going to answer all that and more for you. Let’s dive in!
Every family has to make this decision for themselves because how you approach it is up to you. You get to raise your children how you want to, as long as it’s not abusive, neglectful, or cruel. So when it comes to Santa Claus, every family has the liberty of deciding how to best navigate it in ways that are aligned with their values, beliefs, and their child’s needs. There’s no right or wrong way to do this.
The most important thing is to emphasize the spirit of Santa – generosity, kindness, and giving. That is what the spirit of the holidays is supposed to be about. It’s important to not lose sight of that. And we can all be in the spirit of Santa.
I believe this is something that can be managed with how you talk about Santa when your child starts to ask questions. But if you’re concerned, then by all means, do what’s right for you and your family.
Tell your child Santa is a fictional character people like to believe in – like the Easter Bunny, mermaids, or unicorns. You can stress that this is pretend, and we can choose to believe in it or not. Tell your child some people like to believe and pretend Santa is real.
But you can still incorporate Santa in a way that’s pretend with your child. You can still say, “Let’s pretend Santa is real and make him cookies,” or “Let’s pretend Santa’s going to read our Christmas list, and let’s make a list of all the toys that we want.” You can still incorporate Santa and also be truthful that he is a pretend character.
No. If we’re honest with our kids that Santa is a fictional character that we can choose to believe in or not, we’re not ruining the magic. Because here’s the thing: Kids love to imagine. All day long, your child is engaged in pretend play, and it’s fun for them. For instance, just because your child knows they’re not actually a mom doesn’t distract from the fun of pretending to be mommy during doll time.
You can still have a magical Christmas because it’s all about embodying the spirit of Santa – embodying generosity and kindness. So telling the truth will not ruin the magic for your child during Christmas.
And there are so many ways to embody the magic of the holiday season outside of Santa. You and your child can:
Whether you’re telling your kids Santa is real or not, it’s important to be clear that Santa will always be kind. I’m not a fan of the nice & naughty list or that Santa’s watching and knows if you’ve been good or bad. Or the idea of the Elf being a spy for Santa.
We need to emphasize to our kids that Santa is a kind character, and he’s going to be nice to you regardless. I’m not a fan of instilling fear into our kids to make them comply or to influence their behavior.
Be straightforward and respectful in the way you tell people. It’s opening up a conversation about your beliefs and why you think it’s important. You can say:
There’s no magical age for this. But the age range of when kids start to ask questions is around 7 to 10 – the average age of when kids figure out Santa isn’t real is 8 years old.
If you’ve been saying to your child Santa is real, when you tell them the truth about Santa is going to be based on your child and the questions they ask. So if they ask you, “How do reindeer fly?” Or, “How does Santa get inside my chimney?” Or “How does he get to all the houses in the world in one night?” That’s when it’s time to have those conversations.
For instance, if your child asks, “Is Santa real?” start with asking them back a question:
Start with some curiosity. And it’s not that you’re trying to deflect or not answer their question, but I want you to start with some curiosity because that will inform what you’ll then say later.
So if your child then says, “I don’t think he’s real,” that’s a great time to say:
Talk about the spirit of Santa and why people like to pretend he’s real. Go back to the values of generosity of kindness that Santa embodies.
If your child says, “I don’t know,” or “I think he’s real,” then you can decide if you want to continue that narrative. It’s also okay for you to allow them to come to their own conclusions in their own time.
If your child says, “No, tell me, is he real or not?” I wouldn’t lie. I would say, “No, he’s pretend.”
Of course, the way you have this conversation and the things you talk about are going to depend on your family values and beliefs and what you hope your child will learn from this experience.
Some families like to talk about the spirit of Christmas still being alive and others like to dive into the true meaning of Christmas. Some parents like to tell kids Christmas is all about giving, and that now that they know the truth about Santa, they can embody Santa. They can embody Santa’s spirit and give back to others. So there are different ways to approach this and no approach is right or wrong.
As your child gets older, they’ll start to ask questions and engage in more critical thinking about Santa. You want to encourage your kids to think critically because they’re going to start thinking about how a man riding around in a sleigh is delivering presents all around the world. How does he get to everybody in one night? How does he fit through our chimney? What if someone doesn’t have a chimney?
And these critical thinking questions about Santa are a good thing. This is when you have conversations with your child about Santa Claus. We don’t want to lie to our kids to convince them to continue to believe in Santa when they’re showing signs of critical thinking. This can be harmful.
If your child is much older, like 10 or 11, they probably already know by this point that Santa isn’t real. But if you’re not sure and you want to open up a discussion with them, you can ask by leading with an open-ended question.
It’s important to have this conversation with your child, and it comes down to prepping them beforehand when it’s clear they no longer believe in Santa. This doesn’t mean your child needs to lie. But instead, they need to keep quiet.
If other kids talk about Santa, you can tell your child they can:
But it’s important to emphasize to your child to not ruin it for other little ones.
And this all comes down to treating people with kindness and respect for what they believe. It’s like religion – some people choose to believe certain things and some people don’t. And that’s okay. If they’re choosing to believe in a certain religion, we can respect it. We’ll never want to say their belief is wrong. And that’s the same concept you want to teach your child to respect others’ beliefs about Santa.
Remind them Santa is all about kindness and generosity. Help them understand each family believes things differently, and that’s okay and beautiful – this helps us continue these conversations about diversity and differences. And we can celebrate differences even when it comes to Santa.
It’s also important to tell your child if they ever get a question from another kid saying, “Do you believe Santa’s true?” Teach your child to direct that other kid’s questions to an adult. Tell them they can say something like:
We never want them to feel the burden or responsibility to answer these types of pointed questions. So give them the words to handle those conversations.
We all should incorporate multicultural Santas into how we talk about Santa and how we integrate him into our home. It’s important to celebrate diversity in our homes. Everybody should have multicultural Santas, just like we have multicultural dolls, books, and TV shows. It’s all inclusive and how we live our lives.
It’s only insensitive if you don’t care about other people’s feelings. But if you’re incorporating multiculturalism and diversity in your parenting, that’s the opposite of insensitivity because you’re being inclusive.
Leave me your thoughts in the comments below. Let’s share our ideas, traditions, and more – remember, we’re a community of parents all doing the best we can as we navigate the holiday season!
P.S. Ever wonder what type of parent you are? Like do you tend to be more permissive, authoritarian, or do you strike a balance between love & limits (authoritative)?
Take my Parenting Style Quiz and find out! All you need is 2 minutes and an email address.
Once you complete the quiz, I’ll send you a personalized report and video with your results. You’ll receive several resources that will help you grow to create more cooperation and connection to transform your relationship with your child.
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As a clinical psychologist, published author, and mother to three young children, I get it. I’ve spent YEARS researching and filtering through the noise online, so you don’t have to.