If you have small children, you may have wondered how to talk to them about Santa. Whether Santa comes to your house or doesn’t, whether your children believe wholeheartedly or wonder if the big guy in the red suit is real, there are a few ideas to keep in mind.
Remember: It’s a matter of parental preference. You might feel uncomfortable lying to your child about Santa coming down the chimney and leaving presents. Or maybe you love the idea of your child believing in the magic of Santa. You get to tell your child whatever you want. You’re in charge of your family. I know moms and dads of both stripes that are wonderful parents.
It’s also a matter of cultural and religious difference. No matter what your family believes, or what you choose to tell your child, it’s important to recognize that not everyone agrees with you. That’s okay. In fact, it’s a beautiful opportunity to teach your child that we are all different and we can still get along.
You can tell your child: “Every family is different. Our family/culture/religion has [insert tradition here]. Their family/culture/religion has different traditions. We all get to choose what’s right for us.”
Answer all questions as honestly as you can, and try not to overthink it. Young children are often much more satisfied with vague or simple answers than we imagine they will be. Like answering questions about sex or death, don’t give them more information than they are requesting.
If Santa doesn’t come to your house and it feels right to you, you may still let your child think that Santa exists. Take into account what your friends and extended family do. Make sure to help your child understand that even if Santa doesn’t come to your house, some of your family may do other special things.
If you’ve told your child Santa that isn’t real, what about what they say to other children?
Don’t ask them to keep a secret. I know this seems completely unrelated, but most experts agree that we shouldn’t ask children to keep secrets. It can make them feel confused about telling the truth and it may make them vulnerable to potential predators.
You can tell your child that some parents have different ideas and have told their children a story about Santa that they all enjoy. It’s not your responsibility to uphold something you don’t believe in and, at the same time, it is kind for you and your child to let people celebrate in their own ways.
Even if your child tells their friends, “There is no Santa,” don’t worry about it. Their pronouncement probably won’t have much effect on their peers. My kindergarten-teacher sources tell me that there is a lively debate every year about the existence of Santa. The believers and the non-believers alike cannot be swayed. I have a young friend whose parents told him there was no Santa. All of December he was trying to convince them that there was indeed a Santa. He heard about it at kindergarten!
If you have a child who is starting to question whether or not Santa is real, let them believe until they’re ready to learn the truth. When my children were young and asked me if Santa was real or if it was really just their dad and I doing the stockings, I didn’t want to lie, but I could tell they weren’t quite ready for the truth. I would say, “Well, is it more fun to believe in Santa or not believe in Santa?” and they could continue to believe until they were ready to let it go.
No matter what you do as a family, the Santa question is a wonderful opportunity to model appreciation for diversity. We can demonstrate for our children that we can have different beliefs and customs and still appreciate each other.
Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, ages 12, 15 and 18.
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