The Truth About Santa Claus

By Nora Heston Tarte

Experts often disagree about how and when to tell your kids about Santa.
Does it promote dishonesty to keep the secret? Are you protecting a child’s innocence by letting them believe? There are a lot of questions for parents to consider before spilling the beans about Santa, and with peer influence this conversation also comes about before you’re ready for it. Learn how to handle it, when to have the talk, and what options you have before diving in.

What Age?
The choice of when to tell your child about Santa Claus is often taken from you. Peers tend to share the news regarding the realness of Santa early and often. For many kids older siblings or cousins ruin the illusion, and unfortunately even if your child doesn’t have these influences, their friends at school are likely to share their knowledge.

It’s safe to assume that kids will figure out the truth about Santa before they hit age 10. In many cases kids as young as 5 are questioning his existence. Grade school is the most common time for the truth to come out. If your child doesn’t question the existence of Santa by then, it doesn’t mean they don’t know or don’t suspect either. Perhaps they are protecting your feelings.

The Benefit of the Truth:
Studies have shown that kids who are lied to by their parents are more likely to lie themselves. No one wants to raise a liar, but the correlation between make-believe stories about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy may not be exactly the same as full-out fibs.

One problem experts point to is that parents often use Santa as an excuse to behave. Saying, “Santa is always watching,” or rewarding good behavior with promises of more gifts from the North Pole can certainly come off poorly when your child learns the truth,

The upside, however, is that knowing Santa isn’t real doesn’t have to ruin Christmas. That “magic” isn’t all tied up in a jolly man in a red suit. By getting this silly tradition out of the way—but still fully embracing holiday tradition—parents open the door for their child to appreciate Christmas for what it really is.

When kids know how much work parents put into Christmas Day, they may become more thankful for the gifts received. Knowing they aren’t made by elves but carefully selected by someone who cares for them is flattering and may make them feel good. It can also encourage kids to become more giving themselves.

Don’t worry that knowing the truth about Christmas will ruin the holiday. Instead  think of how much you still enjoy it even though you’ve known the truth for some time.

For families that practice religion it can also help to focus on Bible stories this time of year. Kids may lose the magic of Santa Claus, but in many religions the magic of Christmas is about much bigger miracles than a man who can slide up and down a chimney with ease.

Having the Conversation:
When you’re both ready, sit your child down to talk. Some parents will decide to do this as soon as the questions start. Others may wait for their kids to come to them. There’s no right or wrong way, or right or wrong time.

If it suits you, be proactive. Use a child’s potential doubt as a segue into the conversation. This is a chance to be honest. If lying to their face feels forced, don’t. There is opportunity to do this on your terms.

If you’re considering this conversation for a future date, pick a time not near Christmas. It may seem weird to bring up Santa Claus in June, but creating separation gives a child the time to process. You won’t crush their souls in the days leading up to Christmas, instead you’ll give kids ample time to process the news and get excited about Christmas again. Kids are resilient, but you can help the situation by creating that time to heal and move on.

When you open this can of worms, you’re likely to stumble into a minefield of questions about other mythical creatures including the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and more. Don’t pick and choose what to be honest about. At this time, it’s probably best to just rip the band-aid off.

Give kids an alternative. As mentioned above, if you are religious this is a good opportunity to introduce the magic of religious stories into the holiday celebrations. If not, opt to focus on the spirit of giving and how good it feels to care for others. Trade Santa trips at the mall for volunteer hours at the local soup kitchen. After all, this is the true meaning of Christmas.