When Should You Stop Lying to Your Kids About Santa?
byEricka SouterDec 24, 2015
We knew the day would come when our son
would stop believing in Santa. But at just seven years old, we thought we had at
least two or three more years.
So it was a ruse awakening when, while out to dinner, Lex looked up from his
chicken fingers and fries and blithely asked, "So is Santa real or
what?" That question was met by stunned silence as my husband and I
glanced at each other in disbelief. After all, we were still going to extreme lengths to keep up the rouse.
Just days earlier we were in a panic when his Elf On the Shelf Christopher fell
behind some built-in cabinetry during my husband's attempt to find a new place
to perch it. It was impossible to retrieve.
Thank God for Amazon. A new one would
arrive in just two days. We just needed to figure out how to explain Christopher's absence. I came up with an idea to leave a note from the elf and even hunted down parchment-like paper because it looked –
well - more elf-like. We were relieved to find that it worked. The next day,
Lex informed us that Christopher had to go help Santa out for a couple days,
said to keep being a good boy and that he would be back in a couple days. Whew!
We did it! Good parenting right?
Well, now I am beginning to wonder if
we did the right thing. I'm not alone.
Many parents have shared the same dilemma. "Are we taking this Santa thing too
far?" lamented one mom as we chatted recently. That may be the case, according to experts.
five and seven, they are really testing the waters," notes Dr. Ellen Braaten,
associate director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts
General Hospital. "If he asks if Santa is real, I think the best way to respond
is by asking, 'What do you think about Santa.' Use his response to figure out
if they are ready to cross the line. He may say, 'I think Santa is real but
Billy at school says he isn't.'" In that instance, she suggests explaining that
different people believe different things, that Christmas is a magical time and
St. Nick is a magical person. It's a way of encouraging the belief without
However, if you field a cynical, "Come
on mom, Santa isn't real," the unfettered truth may be the best approach. "You
don't want to tell him he is wrong because he did get it right," recommends Dr. Sarah Vinson, an Atlantic-based
forensic psychiatrist and assistant professor at Morehouse School of Medicine. "This
could actually be a teaching moment. Say something along the lines of, 'Wow,
you got it right. You are really growing up.'"
This issue is much more delicate when
it comes to younger children. They may share this newfound truth with their
peers, which can lead to tears and arguments, not to mention angry
parents. Of course we shouldn't tell our
children to lie, but they should be encouraged to keep it a secret or not say
anything when kids are excitedly talking about Santa.
In general, the experts believe it's
okay to foster the belief in the pre-kindergarten set. "Some three and four year olds
are really active in make believe," explains Dr. Vinson. "To them, Ninja
Turtles are real. Disney princesses are real. Santa Claus is an extension of
their imaginations. They get so much joy out of believing."
It's not just the kids who get a rush from it either. Many parents want them to remain
wide-eyed and amazed by Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. It's as
wonderful for us to watch as it is for them to experience. "When they stop
believing, it's one of the first signs our kids are moving away from us and
becoming their own person," adds Braaten, also an assistant professor of
psychology at Harvard Medical School. "We love the magic of childhood. It's a
loss for us." I must admit the thought saddens me. Inevitably he will ask why I lied when I
had the chance to tell him the truth – a moment I am certainly not looking forward
to. Yet when the time comes, Dr. Vinson has armed me with the perfect response:
"Tell him, 'You were so happy and excited about Santa, we wanted you to have a
special, magical Christmas. But you are a big boy and figured it out. We are
proud of you.'"