• By: Adele Blair

Should kids be told the truth about Santa Claus?


Dear Adele,

Our children are three and five years of age. We are wondering if it damages children to believe in Santa Claus and to have their parents promote the belief? What do you think?

Enchanted with Santa


Dear Enchanted with Santa,

Christian L. Hart states in a Psychology Today article on this subject that “84% of US parents lie to their children about a number of things. Research shows that the vast majority of American parents promote a false belief in Santa Claus and most small children accept that story as real.”

Those that support a belief in Santa Claus usually like imagination and creative thinking. They hope that their children will experience a lot of enjoyment believing in the man in the red suit. Some in this camp, think that a belief in Saint Nick impacts behaviour and that the children will be better behaved in order to merit more gifts from him.

Those who are against teaching children about Santa Claus may feel that way for religious reasons. Others with this view, believe that the lying may affect the child’s trust in his parents. When the little one does find out the truth, he or she may resent the lie and question the judgment of the parents. This group also may think it will be difficult for the child to separate fantasy and reality, particularly with an emotionally charged character like old Saint Nick.

Generally, parents do not sanction the telling of lies, but the story about Santa is quite magical. It brings children all over the world a lot of pleasure. It also forms good reminiscences for adults who play the part of Old Saint Nick.

Jared Piazza in ‘Should you tell your child the truth about Santa? a psychologist’s view’, recognizes that there are pros and cons on this issue. However, he states that there is no evidence that children are harmed by either approach. As children’s ability to reason improves, they usually figure it out, says Piazza. The salient task left for the child is handling the letdown when told the truth.

A Time article entitled ‘Should You Be Lying to Your Kids about Santa?’ says that we stretch the truth regularly when we flatter someone when we try to save face, when we’re protecting our ego or when we’re attempting to do a kindness. Although we may be raised to think lying is wrong, Emma Levine of the University of Chicago’s research shows that people “agree that lying is sometimes the right thing to do.” Lying can build empathy, make people feel understood, and win trust.

Explaining the Santa lie is fairly easy because the story is akin to mythology and is in the world of pretend and imagination. Author Judy Ketteler says that “honesty takes vulnerability, courage, and thought” and that these are life skills worth possessing long after the belief in the old bearded man in the red suit is put to bed. Finally, note that a study by Dr. Drew Curtis found that there was no link between lying about a Santa Claus when children are small and the quality of the relationship between the young adults and their parents.

There is no right age for children to learn the truth about Saint Nicholas. Most children start to question his existence between the ages of five and seven and can handle a truthful answer. Should a child wait longer than that to ask questions and figure out the truth do not fret. He or she will not be damaged in perpetuity.

Best to let the children lead in the discovery of the truth though. Further their own thinking and discovery by asking questions back such as “Why do you ask?” If pressured, give a correct and honest answer.

Talk to your children about the spirit of Christmas, the story of Jesus, and the meaning behind it. Tell them Christmas is about giving and kindness. Suggest that the children can now be Santa to someone else. Discourage the children from divulging the secret to other kids. Consider starting some new traditions such as giving secret gifts to friends and family or giving presents to those less fortunate.

If you want to keep the belief in Santa alive, CornwallLive.com’s article “How to keep your kids believing in Santa and when to tell them the truth”, has the following ideas for you. Many of them looked pretty cool and should spark excitement and imagination in youngsters.

  • Write a letter to Santa and mail it in the postbox.
  • Put a letter from Santa in the mail, for your offspring to receive.
  • Prepare and leave a snack for Father Christmas.
  • Make some tracks in the snow outside that suggest Santa Claus has visited.
  • Leave Santa a magic key to get in the front door.
  • Help the children make a runway for the reindeer and sleigh.
  • Leave reindeer food in the yard.
  • Jingle some bells after the children are in bed.
  • Send a thank you note to Santa.
  • Mail the child a birthday card from Saint Nicholas.

So, there you have the pros and cons to telling your child the truth about Santa. There seems to be no real harm with either option. So, feel free to have some fun with it, and may you, enchanted by Santa, and your children, treasure the memories you create.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Sincerely, Adele

I'm looking forward to your questions! Email me at maryadeleblair@gmail.com and please put Heart to Heart in the subject line. Note that all columns will remain anonymous.

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