To Believe or Not to Believe

Should Parents Tell their Kids the Truth About Santa or Let Them Find Out on Their Own?

They’re the questions that put parents on edge every year: “How does Santa get into our house without a chimney? How can Santa visit every kid in one night? How does Santa always know what I want? Do you work for Santa?” And each year, these questions can get more complex and harder to answer.

In the age of the Internet and holiday programs that spend half the show convincing a non-believing child there is a Santa Claus, parents find themselves with children who are more skeptical at an earlier age.

Carol Oseroff, a board-certified specialist in child and adolescent psychology, said today’s children are exposed to information that challenges their thoughts more than ever before. 

“If you’ve got a child who’s asking those kind of sophisticated questions, then what they’re telling you is, ‘I’m ready to get rid of this false belief,’ ” she said.

But what if that child has a younger brother or sister? Or pestering classmates at school who spill the beans sooner then you wanted them to know? Little children believing in magical creatures is just as natural as learning how to ride a bike or losing their first tooth, according to the psychologist.

“Believing in something you cannot see or touch is the beauty of childhood,” Oseroff said. “Children want to believe that there’s a Santa. They can’t help but believe because it seems so natural, (especially) around the holiday season when they see so many signs that Santa exists.”

Rodger Tripp, better known as Santa Rodger, has played the rosy-cheeked gift giver for six years. “Most children, when they figure out there’s no Santa, they become like the rest of us, a keeper of the big secret,” Tripp said. “You got to keep the magic going for all the ones that still believe.”

If they’re not asking questions about Santa, there’s no need to put the doubt about him in their heads. Tripp said he doesn’t think most kids want to ask a lot of questions, just in case they get an answer they don’t want to hear.

Nevertheless, the realization that there is no jolly man in a red suit is heartbreaking and disappointing to some. “It’s scary [for kids] because if there’s no Santa, there’s probably no Tooth Fairy and if there’s no Tooth Fairy, there’s probably no Easter Bunny,” he said.

Yes, you’ve carried on an elaborate lie for five or six years, but the reality check will not traumatize your child, according to Oseroff. In fact, research shows parents who encourage their children’s beliefs and are more involved with them will have a better relationship with their kids in the long run, she said.

Oseroff said parents must help their child make that transition and teach them other important aspects of the season, such as kindness and generosity, which are represented in Santa Claus.

Other members of the family should respect the parents’ decisions and everybody must be on the same page.

“As long as the family has traditions and the child feels like there are things they celebrate as a family and that they believe in something together as a family, they should be fine,” said Oseroff.

That said, the phase where the child believes in Santa Claus shouldn’t be rushed — children will eventually grow out of it. Until that time comes, let your children enjoy Santa Claus and the happiness it brings them during the holidays. Let them write their letters to Santa with their list of toys, put out the tray of cookies and milk on Christmas Eve and otherwise enjoy this treasured part of childhood. 

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