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How to Come Clean about Santa Claus

Monday, December 9, 2013
santaThe dreaded question “Is Santa real?” puts parents on-the-spot every holiday season. What’s the right answer? Should parents come clean, or fudge the truth a little and make the magic last a little longer?
 
There is no one right or wrong answer when it comes to telling kids about Santa, says Jennifer Crawford, PhD, staff psychologist for the The Menninger Clinic’s Adolescent Treatment Program and mother of four children.
 
“The important thing is to follow their lead and to try not to prolong the myth for your own personal gratification,” she says. “When children begin to wonder and doubt, they will ask questions. Parents need to be prepared to have the discussion and to allow children to cross into a more mature understanding of Christmas when the time is right.” 
 
Dr. Crawford shares how to make the Santa conversation a little easier for parents and children.
 
Anticipate questions in early elementary school. While there is no specific age children must give up their belief in Santa, many children start questioning his existence around second or third grade when the logical mind kicks in. For others, however, “Santa remains alive and well in their hearts well past the time you anticipate,” Dr. Crawford says, and that’s OK. “Quite possibly they know the truth, but they are content to keep Santa, and all of his magic, a part of their holiday tradition.”
 
Plan what you want to say. It’s difficult to come up with a well thought-out answer to the “Is Santa real?” or similar question out of the blue, especially if other younger children are in earshot. Even Dr. Crawford admits she didn’t respond well when her daughter suddenly asked, “Are you and Daddy the Tooth Fairy?”
 
“I looked her smack dab in the eyes and said no,” she says. “It surprised me that the word ‘no’ rolled so freely off my tongue, but I had her three younger siblings sitting at the table, and at that point I wasn’t prepared to have ‘the talk.’”  
 
She advises parents to give some thought each Christmas about how they would approach the Santa conversation should the question arise. Then you can approach the conversation with care and compassion.  While some children are blasé when finding out the true identity of Santa, others experience genuine sadness and require more time and support to process the information.
 
Tell the truth – while keeping the magic alive. The Santa conversation doesn’t have to be a harsh introduction to reality.  It can be a sweet transition to a new kind of magic. Parents can emphasize the spirit of giving and holiday traditions.
 
“For example, if a child asks, ‘Are you Santa?’ You might respond, ‘I am not Santa. There is no one Santa. I am the person who puts presents under the tree, but that doesn’t make me Santa.’ Then talk about the real story of Saint Nick, and how he lives in the hearts of many people, and how his generous spirit remains alive when we give each other gifts each year,” Dr. Crawford says.
 
Parents should not be concerned that they intentionally deceived their children about Santa.  The Santa fib is not the type of lie that will scar kids for life, Dr. Crawford says.
 
“There is something magical in believing in things that you can’t see or touch, and in having a spirit that is powerful enough to fill children’s hearts with such joy and happiness,” she adds.