Kids ask the curliest questions, and almost always without warning. If you’re wondering how and when you have to answer the ‘Is Santa real?’, question, I’m here to help you through it.
First, let’s deal with when.
Children often can’t determine the difference between fantasy and reality until around the age of seven. However, the high-speed efficiency of ‘the playground network’ could bring this question about sooner. It’s wise to expect some pointed questions from ages five to seven.
If your child falls in that bracket, now is the time to prepare yourself.
When the question comes
Now, let’s deal with how.
Take a moment before you answer, “is Santa real?”. Listen to the tone of their voice and for an indication of how much they already suspect, but more importantly, how much they actually want to know.
Verify by asking, “what makes you ask that?” or “what do you think about Santa?” It’s okay to let kids form their own conclusions if they feel happy and confident in their convictions. If that’s the case, let the magic continue!
Some kids might know to ask the question but don’t want their suspicions confirmed just yet. They might be unsure what the consequences could be of Santa moving from fact to fiction. They may not feel ready or willing to let go of that Christmas wonder. They might even worry that this means they lose the pay-off of a full stocking on Christmas morning.
“Believing in Santa Claus is short-lived. It is a harmless lie,” says social psychologist Susan Newman, PhD. [By writing him letters, wish lists, putting out treats on Christmas Eve, and passing down family traditions] “you’re creating an interaction with your child. It’s a bonding experience. You’re emblazoning a memory.”
Can you handle the truth?
Kids look to us for their safety and security. So, when they ask directly for facts, we need to show them we’re trustworthy and reliable by delivering them.
It might be their tone, their look, their direct line of questioning that makes it apparent, now is the time for the truth about Santa. So long as you’re ready, this conversation is nothing to dread.
Much like the way we employ stories and characters to bring context, memories and magic into our children’s lives, this conversation can uplift rather than disappoint. It’s all in telling the truth and then decorating it with a little bit of tinsel.
The truth shall set you free
It can be a relief when your child is better informed about Santa. There’s something so rotten about holding kids to ransom with the antiquated ‘be good, or else’ message.
Consider these troubling lyrics:
“You’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout I’m telling you why ... He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake ...”
It’s also an opportunity to explain why Santa’s delivery, generosity, or lack thereof, varies from household to household depending on what’s appropriate or possible for individual families.
When your child is mature enough to ask direct questions about Santa, they’re mature enough for the duality of understanding that while the man isn’t real, taking part in Christmas traditions is where real magic can happen.
Christmas, for your maturing child, will become more about experiencing the joy of giving and loving unconditionally.
Here’s how to tell kids the truth about Santa ...
- Have a special one-on-one conversation, acknowledging how grown-up they’ve become and that it’s time they knew the truth about Santa Claus.
- Explain that the way Santa gets around all the children in the world in one night is because he is not just one person, Santa is many people – the spirit of Santa lives inside all of us. When we’re grown-up enough, we get to become Santa for people we care about, bringing magic and joy by giving gifts without them knowing who they are from.
- Tell them how proud you are that they’re ready to become Santa for somebody, and then make a plan for something they could do as their first ‘Spirit of Santa’ act.
- Remind them that this is top-secret information, and they need to keep it to themselves (which they probably won’t).
- Help them carry out their first ‘Spirit of Santa’ act (there will need to be secret talks, planning, and stealth-like execution).
- Be present when they experience unconditional giving and talk about what that felt like for them.
The ‘Spirit of Santa’ acts as a bridge between a child’s belief in Santa Claus — being on the receiving end of unconditional love, and embodying Christmas spirit — being the giver of unconditional love. It’s a message that is hopeful, aspirational, and importantly, a little conspiratorial to move forward with. Kids can discover that everyone gets to be the giver and receiver of joy – where a little magic flows in all directions, just as it should.
Hannah Davison is the author and co-founder of My Big Moments. Join 'the village' on Instagram at @mybigmoments for free practical help and support for parents and caregivers.