Is Santa Real? 11 Gentle Ways to Break the News About Santa to Your Kids
For many households in America, the Christmas season invokes feelings of joy, family, love, presents, and, of course, Santa. So what happens when your child starts asking if Santa is real? We asked parents and experts for helpful ways you can navigate this tricky situation while keeping the magic of Christmas alive and well for your kids.
Look for signs your child is curious about Santa’s true identity
Has your child begun to ask questions about the jolly fellow, perhaps even the direct inquiry, “Is Santa real”? Or maybe your son or daughter has noticed Santa’s voice or size differs from store to store. These types of questions could indicate your child is ready to further the discussion about who Santa really is.
Let it happen naturally, not on a deadline
Some parents may be able to gauge the age at which their child will learn the answer to “Is Santa real?” Some may even think their child needs to know once he or she reaches a certain age. In reality, the process should happen on the child’s timeline. “There’s really no one right time to tell kids that there’s no Santa Claus,” Glen Elliott, PhD, an associate professor and the director of the department of child and adolescent psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, tells WebMD. “The important thing is to take your cues from the child, and not try to prolong the fantasy for your own enjoyment when they may be ready to give it up.” Need a pick-me-up after breaking the news? These adorable vintage photos of kids meeting Santa will warm your heart.
Talk about the tradition of Santa in your family
For Özlem Jones, two of her children had their “Is Santa real?” moment when they began to doubt Santa’s ability to travel to every child’s house in a single night. “It was math that helped them discover the truth,” she said. She then told them they had joined “the grownup world.” In her family, it was important to keep the tradition of Santa alive. “You have a responsibility, just like us, to keep the hopes of little children going,” she told her older kids. You could also use this as an opportunity to add a new holiday tradition, like one of these Christmas traditions from around the world.
Let your children in on a special secret
While the older children know Santa isn’t real, Jones’ youngest son is eight, and he still believes in Santa. The older siblings have become keepers of the Christmas secret, and they now help make Christmas special for their younger brother until the day comes when he begins to wonder “Is Santa real?”. “That’s the beauty of the relationship we have in our family. A positive vibe is very important in our household, and we work together to make Christmas a magical experience for all of us,” Jones says. Keep that magic alive by telling stories about their favorite Christmas characters or watching the best Christmas movies for kids.
Don’t make Santa a huge focus for your family
For some parents, pushing your children to believe in Santa may feel like lying. Such was the case for Sharon Montieth. The Montieths wanted their kids to always know that Santa was simply a fun, cultural story to enjoy, but he wasn’t a real person or a big part of their family traditions. Rather than instilling a belief in a jolly gift-giver, they chose to center their holiday practices around their faith. These letters to Santa will warm your heart.
Make sure other family members are on the same page
As a parent, you ideally want to be the one to answer the question “Is Santa real?” when your child starts to doubt. As he or she gets older, make sure other family members you see around the holidays know where your child stands on the Santa spectrum so the news doesn’t slip at the wrong time. Pamela Hill Nettleton’s boyfriend accidentally spilled the beans to her youngest son Ian when he was 8. When Ian asked his mom if it was true, Nettleton gently confirmed the truth. “And I suppose that means there is no tooth fairy or Easter bunny, too?” Ian asked. Again, she gently told him no. At first, Ian was sad, and then he got angry. “No Santa, no Tooth Fairy, no Easter Bunny! A lifetime of belief, down the drain!”
Some children will learn the truth from their friends or older siblings
For many kids, their friends or siblings will break the news to them that Santa isn’t real. When this happens, reassure your kids that the story of Santa is just one way among many to celebrate the love, happiness, and the giving spirit of the holiday. Remind them of the other rituals your family implements (things like baking cookies together or stuffing stockings) to ease the confusion or sadness of this childhood transition.
Prepare yourself that every child will have a different reaction to the truth about Santa
On Psychcentral.com, it’s suggested some kids will respond to the news with relief as their suspicions are confirmed. However, other kids may feel angry, betrayed, or unhappy when they get an honest answer to “Is Santa real?” Psychcentral encourages parents to talk through the situation with sympathy and understanding and work to reassure children that Christmas still continues even if there is no Santa. You may even want to crack a Santa joke or two to cheer them up.
Allow your children to experience the happiness of gift-giving
Older kids can wrap gifts for younger kids, or they can wrap gifts for their friends or neighbors. When children participate in the gift-giving process, they learn Christmas doesn’t rely on the work of one individual, but on the work of many people coming together to make beautiful memories.
Help your child “become Santa”
A viral Facebook post by mom Charity Hutchinson shared what she considers “by far the best idea I’ve seen about telling your kids about Santa.” The idea is that when a child starts asking, “Is Santa real?” the parent lets him or her in on the real secret: “Your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus. You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to be a Santa yet, but you are.” As their first act as a Santa, the child must choose someone they know, find out something that person needs, and secretly wrap and deliver that gift. This way, the child doesn’t feel lied to and is given a positive, grownup responsibility.
Keep the holiday spirit and Christmas festivities fun and lively by trying something new
As children get older and grow out of the Santa story, it’s a great opportunity to create new family traditions. Finding creative ways to volunteer, like bringing gifts to a nursing home, feeding the homeless, or visiting your local children’s hospital, will demonstrate a new expression of the Christmas spirit to them, help others less fortunate, and keep the magic alive for years to come.