Santa Claus: That rotund, imaginary man that brings joy to so many children—and anxiety to so many parents.
Every holiday season parents across the country struggle with the same questions. Should we continue insisting Santa is real and if so, how long? How do we let our child down gently?
The answers are dependent in part on your child’s personality and needs, but sometimes you just don’t know when and how to approach the issue. And to make matters worse, the internet offers lots of conflicting advice on how to deal with Santa.
So, to help makes things a little easier, we’ve gathered some of the information together, including both sides of the “to lie or not to lie” debate and how to deal with the situation when your kids find out.
The case for lying
Many parents bring Santa into their kids’ lives because they view Santa as a fun family tradition and something that brings joy to kids. Those who support the Santa “lie” also say that Santa is just one of many myths that kids are exposed to; characters from television, film, and comic books (like superheroes) aren’t that different than Santa. Mr. Claus is also a way to encourage your child to behave well.
Dr. Benjamin Siegel, a Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, says that parents should consider the values they are trying to impart to their children and whether perpetuating a myth (in this case, Santa) aligns with these morals. So, if Santa represents good values, then that might be a good reason to keep up the myth.
The case for telling the truth
Dr. David Johnson is well-known for his belief that parents shouldn’t lie to their kids about Santa. He’s written a book called The Myths That Stole Christmas, penned several articles for the Psychology Today blog and various other websites, and been interviewed many times, including on Huffpost Live. He’s also received a lot of hate mail from parents who disagree with him.
Dr. Johnson says that it’s wrong to lie and that telling your child Santa exists isn’t doing a greater, justifying good for your child. He believes this lie doesn’t promote imagination because parents are tricking kids into thinking he is real, rather than allowing them to imagine he exists. He also says that the Santa lie isn’t a necessary ingredient in the magic of the holidays and that it robs parents of appreciation; instead of thanking their parents for their generosity and love, kids are thanking Santa. Further, and perhaps most importantly, the Santa lie threatens parental trustworthiness. Kids usually trust their parents more than anyone else in the world, and learning that their parents have been lying to them for years (even a “good” lie like Santa) can be very upsetting if not traumatic.
When your kids find out
Many kids find out about Santa on their own around age seven or eight, and according to Siegel, when they do, it’s not that big of a deal. Siegel says that most kids handle it well when they find out a myth isn’t real, and they actually tend to handle it better than parents. He notes that kids realize their parents aren’t all-powerful, but that happens during adolescence anyway.
Talking to your kids
If your kids are upset that you lied to them, acknowledge their disappointment and ask them about their feelings. You can tell them that Santa is a tradition that your family shares and encourage them to remember the fun and happiness that Santa brought to the holidays.