I was talking with a friend last night. She was distraught because her 6 year old came home from school that day and told her that the kids at school said Santa Claus wasn’t real. Those kids, my friend lamented, RUINED Christmas FOREVER. Admittedly, I wanted to march up to the school and smack the kids that let the cat out of the bag. I mean, there is a code, a secret code that mandates that older children DO NOT ruin it for the younger ones. The magic should still be alive and thriving in the mind of a child so young. And like my friend, I ADORED Christmas once I became a mother. Being able to create that unique magic in your child’s life is one of the highlights of parenthood. Even if being it required being a slave to the “Elf on the Shelf” for close to a decade.
Our conversation of course, opened up the inevitable question, which is also the hardest: Is Santa Claus real? Deciding how to tell kids about Santa — not to mention what to tell them — can be a surprisingly tough decision. On the one hand, you never want your kid to feel like they can’t trust you. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be responsible for ruining the most wonderful day of the year.
Psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Justin Coulson thinks that parents are overcomplicating the whole thing: “Tell your kid the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” says Coulson. I read this and was like, “Really?” I was certainly NOT that parent. My sister-in-law started out of the gate, making sure her kids knew that Santa only got them ONE present and that they got my niece and nephew everything else. That seemed somewhat glory-seeking to me. I was the polar opposite. I had elves, I made footprints in flour leading from the chimney to the tree. I pretended to “see” elves scurrying about out of windows, my son searching in vane to try and catch a glimpse of the mysterious makers of gifts. I went hog wild, ace freely, 150% INTO Christmas.
The whole “truth-telling” bunch seems to think I’m going to somehow set my kid up for disappointment and failure by engaging him in the traditions and mystery surrounding Christmas. I think that’s malarkey. I think Santa is a transition from the full on fantasy of childhood into the reality of life. It’s how you make the transition and when that matters. Psychologically, children don’t even begin to truly reason and develop analytical skills until the ages of 5-7. So while at first, when talking to my friend I felt like six seemed so young, in fact, it is spot on for when children begin to reason and question themselves and their surroundings. So this age is honestly a good time for the transition to take place.
I would suggest letting your child believe in Santa when they’re young and when they first start asking questions, encourage them to think about it critically. Is there really a man who is riding around on a sleigh with magic reindeer who goes to every house in the world in one night? Can he really know everyone’s behavior? Can one man eat that many cookies in one night? Let them decide for themselves. No child is going to hate Christmas if you let them figure out the truth on their own. Everything they loved about Christmas isn’t gone, the presents are just coming from a different person. And now at thirteen my son is beginning to truly appreciate where his gifts come from and also the joy that comes from giving. I have kept a book of all the different scenarios the “Elf” got into and made a book that I will give to him, when he becomes a parent and is able to relive the magic all over again through his children.