How to Tell Your Kid the Truth About Santa

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It's bound to happen sooner or later: your kids discover your stash of "presents from Santa" in the closet. Or you notice an eye-roll when you propose visiting St. Nick so they can fill him in on what they want. Or your kids come home saying they've heard rumors that Santa is a ruse. However your kids start questioning whether Santa is real, it's a pivotal moment where you've got to weigh carefully whether it's truly time to give up this charade -- and if so, how to break the news without spoiling the Christmas fun.


The first thing to consider is the age of your child.

"While it's difficult to pinpoint a precise age when children figure out Santa is a ruse, often children start questioning the validity of Santa in the elementary school years," says Christine Weber, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist in Seaford, New York. That said, there's no reason to rush. If your child doesn't pop the Santa question, don't feel pressured to bring it up so you can be the first person to set your child straight.

Instead, take the wait-and-see approach -- and once he does start asking questions, don't assume he's fallen off the Santa belief bandwagon until you hear more of what's on his mind.

"If a child does start inquiring about Santa, parents should query their child for the reason he or she is asking," says Weber. "This way, an appropriate answer can be provided and a parent can avoid inadvertently debunking the myth."

Odds are, your child will come to you to confirm rumors he's heard from his friends -- i.e., "Jimmy said Santa isn't real, is it true?" At this point, your child deserves an honest answer. But don't assume you have to give a lame-o response along the lines of, "Yup, you're right. Santa isn't real. It was us leaving your gifts all along."

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Instead, consider a more nuanced response that allows you to at least maintain the idea of Santa going forward. 

"I think that instead of telling children that there is no Santa, it is more important to communicate that there is a Santa, he is just different than they think," says Carol Hinman, a pediatric counselor in Marion, Iowa.

In other words, try phrasing it this way: "Santa is not just one person. He is many. He is part of everyone's heart, including your mommy's and daddy's. He's taught us how to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, to spread joy by giving gifts. So, daddy and I picked and wrapped your gifts, in the same way our parents did for us, and we hope the same way you'll do for your own kids one day."

And rather than making this reality check a letdown, treat it as a celebration that your child's "grown up enough" to understand the truth by adding, "Little kids can't understand the idea of Santa, so parents start by teaching them that Santa brings presents. But the truth is that we are the ones giving you presents and are happy because now you'll know that the gifts you get are from us!"

Only what if your kid doesn't buy the whole "Santa spirit" thing? Just explain that beliefs are like that: they have no proof. In fact, many things can't be proven -- like ghosts, or fate, or that the universe is infinite -- but that doesn't stop people from believing in them anyway. Say, "It's your choice: you can choose to believe or not, and neither choice is right or wrong."

From there, the ball's in your kid's court -- it's up to him what he wants to believe or not believe. And now your family can move on with fewer illusions, but no less holiday cheer.

Has your child started questioning Santa's existence? How do you handle it?


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