Believing in Santa

No one wants to kill the crush on Santa, so why not just keep believing?
Therapist, Julie Hanks, has advice on how to handle “Santa doubt” and how
to keep Santa’s example of love and generosity, alive.

Should you keep your kids believing in Santa?

1) Let your child take the lead

· Watch for Santa doubt starting to creep in sometime between ages 5-7.

· Children usually make a gradual shift in beliefs instead of one big
moment around age 7.

· Cognitive development shifts around this age from fantasy to more
rational judgments based concrete evidence that doesn’t add up.

· 2 of 3 children said they felt pride in figuring out the truth about Santa,
and half still liking the idea of Santa even though he wasn’t real. (Source

· In preparing for this segment I asked my 9 year old, “Tell me about
Santa…” He replied, “You mean do I believe or not? I think he’s real because
there is no way you guys could hide all those presents from us! And I don’t
think you could leave and buy all that stuff on Christmas eve. But I don’t
believe in the tooth fairy. I think that’s just you or Dad leaving money
under my pillow.”

· “We told our kids right from the start that there was no Santa. They
chose to believe otherwise. We insisted that he was a story, a fairy tale.
They insisted that we were teasing them. Finally, when they were around
ten or so they started to realize that we had been telling them the truth all
along but they decided when and what to believe.” –Stephanie Cannon

2) Respond directly and simply to child’s questions

· “How does Santa get to everyone’s house in one night? We don’t have a
chimney! Do reindeer really fly?”

· As level of reasoning increases (concrete & logical), belief in Santa

· Researchers interviewed with hundreds of kids, and none of them said
they were angry at their parents for “lying” when they found out the truth
about Santa. They knew that the deception was friendly and not malicious.

3) Don’t go overboard trying to convince child to believe

· Kids are also more likely to believe in Santa if their parents encourage
them to do so, but I think it’s important to consider their appropriate level
and if you’re keeping them believing primarily for you or them.

· There’s some evidence that children may already be imagining and
playing along with you, like they do when they dress up like a pirate, they
know that the pirate sword isn’t real, or they’re not really drinking tea at
their tea party.

· Author and psychologist Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at
the University of California at Berkeley says, “Children will happily and
convincingly engage in the lovely pretend game about the benign old guy
with the reindeer, without necessarily thinking he’s real.”(Source)

· Rose T. shared this comment on my website…”…as soon as a child
knew who Santa was (he or she) was sub-contracted to do Santa’s work for
him on Christmas Eve at our house. That child got to stay up late and help
set up the stockings/living room (and see some of the presents in
advance!), Waiting for their siblings’ reaction to the presents is very nearly
as exciting as waiting to get the presents. It became a sort of natural
transition from ‘getting’ to ‘giving’.”

4) Let your child have their feelings

· Children usually have a positive reaction to finding out the truth about
Santa while parents report feeling a loss and feel sad at about child’s

· 82% of children appeared to be indifferent to actually seeing Santa.

· How many times have you seen kids crying in terror at the site of the
man in a big red suit at the mall?

· Bruce Henderson is professor of psychology at Western Carolina
University sent graduate students to malls and noted, “…frequently
parents, in their determination to give their children the Santa experience
or to get a photo for the scrapbook, were insensitive to their children’s
wariness or outright fear of the big man in the red suit. Smiling was rare,
crying was not. Parents may act the Scrooge without realizing it. (Source)

5) What can we learn from Santa?

· There’s no right or wrong way to approach the Santa tradition or to
answer the Santa question.

· Whether you talk about Santa as a “story” or as “real” Santa, this is an
opportunity to teach your child about intangibles in life: love, generosity,
hope, believing in something bigger than yourself.

· I loved this poignant letter answering her daughter’s question, “Are
YOU Santa?”

…Santa is bigger than any person, and his work has gone on longer than
any of us have lived. What he does is simple, but it is powerful. He teaches
children how to have belief in something they can’t see or touch.

It’s a big job, and it’s an important one. Throughout your life, you will need
this capacity to believe: in yourself, in your friends, in your talents and in
your family. You’ll also need to believe in things you can’t measure or even
hold in your hand. Here, I am talking about love, that great power that will
light your life from the inside out, even during its darkest, coldest

Santa is a teacher, and I have been his student, and now you know the
secret of how he gets down all those chimneys on Christmas Eve: he has
help from all the people whose hearts he’s filled with joy. With full hearts,
people like Daddy and me take our turns helping Santa do a job that would
otherwise be impossible.

So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness.
I’m on his team, and now you are, too. (Source)

I’d love to hear your experiences, stories, and thoughts on my blog post
“Moms, how do you answer
the questions “Is there really a Santa?”

Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW is a therapist, self & relationship expert,
media contributor and director of Wasatch Family Therapy. Visit
for individual, couple, family, & group
counseling services designed to strengthen you and your family. We treat
mental health and relationship problems in children, adolescents, and
adults. Now open in Provo!

For additional emotional health & relationship resources connect with Julie

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