Your baby is growing up, and ever so quickly, too! It seems like yesterday when you watched as moms debated whether or not to pretend there’s an old, fat, jolly guy shimmying down chimneys to eat cookies and deliver gifts.
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You decided that it’s worth it, but now your not so little bub has got questions. You need to know how to tell your child there is no Santa without spoiling their joy.
You’ll be happy to know that most children have no ill effects from finding out that Santa Claus isn’t real.
Why I skipped the Santa thing
I was on the other team where I didn’t end up pretending to be Jolly Old Saint Nick. My son was precocious and around 4 years old when he asked me if there’s a Santa. I asked him what he thinks and he said it sounds like make believe. So that was that.
I did, however, do the tooth fairy thing. He loved getting gifts from the tooth fairy, but every now and then he would ask me if she’s real. Each time I’d ask him what he thinks. He said, “She’s probably not real but we can pretend she is if not.”
I had a little tooth chest from the dentist that I’d throw his little teeth that had fallen out into. He got teeth early and started losing them early, too. He lost his first one at 4 while in preschool.
He found that chest of teeth and came to me and said, “I knew it was you all along! But can we still keep putting the teeth under the pillow and getting stuff?”
The Magic of Santa Claus
I think it’s important to note that much of the magic for kids actually lies in what happens rather than the how. By that, I mean, he was more interested in putting his tooth under a pillow and waking up to a gift than this weird magic fairy who has a crazy tooth obsession.
Likewise, many kids love the traditions of Christmas more than Santa Claus himself. Some kids find him scary to begin with and would rather skip the photo op.
The magic lies in the following actions, whether you participate in only a few or all:
- making a Christmas wish list
- counting down to Christmas
- singing Santa Claus songs
- reading Santa Claus books
- watching Santa Claus shows
- baking Christmas cookies for Santa
- putting out milk and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer
- waking up to Christmas gifts
You see, none of these amazing things have to be forfeited when you decide to ditch the big guy.
Life goes on and the most magical parts of Christmas can continue, ad infinitum.
How To Tell Your Child That Santa Doesn’t Exist
So, now I’m guessing you want the practical tips for how to tell your child that Santa isn’t real. Here we go!
1. If They Asked, Just Say “No.”
You can do what I did and ask what they think, but if you know that they are leaning on the side of disbelief, I think it’s important to acknowledge their insightfulness and admit defeat.
Don’t push your whims on your child.
Say no and answer their questions honestly. Foster trust and respect. If you have younger children or many friends who still believe, see #2.
2. If You Know The Time Is Here, But They Haven’t Asked… YET!
You can write a fancy letter to your big kid, as one of my good friends did.
She told her boy how proud she is of him and how much fun she had making Christmas a magical occasion for him. She also asked him if he’d like to help make Christmas just as magical for his younger brother, who still believed in Mr. Claus.
She also assured him that he can still make his Christmas list, and he’ll still get a “Santa gift” on Christmas day. Only now he gets to have double the fun since he gets to help “be Santa” for his younger brother!
Maybe she said they were the helper elves… in any case, her son was SO excited!
They viewed it as a natural transition from childhood and he was proud to reach that milestone.
3. If You Never Supported Santa But Friends Told Your Child He Exists
This one has to be treaded lightly.
If your child’s friends believe in Santa, but your family doesn’t, you don’t have to suddenly start pretending he exists. But you also want to raise an empathetic and tolerant child who respects others’ beliefs and traditions.
This may be difficult depending on your child’s age and temperament. But all you’ve got to do is try your best.
Let your child know that different families believe different things, and that your family does not participate in the Santa Claus tradition. Point out the traditions that your family does observe.
Emphasize that for those who believe in Santa, finding out that he isn’t real from a friend can be upsetting. Show your child several ways he or she can redirect conversations about Santa to Christmas traditions instead.
For example, if asked what Santa brought your child, he or she can say that Christmas morning she received _______ which she really appreciated.
If asked what he or she is asking Santa for, saying, “My Christmas list has x, x and x item,” would be sufficient.
If your child goofs and “spoils Santa” for another child, do not punish him or her. Just give a reminder about respecting the beliefs of others and carry on. Children have been finding out the truth from other children for eons, and you should not worry about any lasting damage.
4. If You’re Not Sure How To Gauge Where They Are
If you don’t know what age kids usually learn the truth about Santa, you might be shocked to learn that there is a wide range.
US psychotherapist Amy Morin says that many children begin thinking critically and question the existence of Santa between age 5 and 7. She also states that she’s never had an adult client express being permanently scarred by their parents bringing a little extra magic with the myth of Santa.
Jo Wheatley, an associate editor for a publication in the UK, believes most children begin questioning whether or not Father Christmas is real between 9 and 10 years old.
Some children are more gullible/naive than others and will therefore believe in the Santa story much longer than other children.
It’s OK to gauge your child and decide what works best for you and your child. As with most things in parenting, if it doesn’t cause your child mental, physical, emotional or psychological harm, do what you feel is best!
5. If Your Child Really Loved Santa, But Another Child Spilled The Beans
This one is hard, because your child may not have been ready to know the truth about Santa yet. Thankfully, studies and anecdotal stories both support that a child will not be emotionally scarred forever because of this. They will not have trust issues due to this!
So, the most important thing is to take care of their emotional needs.
Let them know that Santa is a tradition many families participate in because it creates a magical experience for their children. You knew that it would fill them up with anticipation, and make their faces light up on Christmas Day.
Because you wanted them to have that excitement and something to look forward to all month, you chose to follow that tradition in your own family.
But the awesome thing is that they can still keep that magic alive! Even though they now know parents are the real Santas, they can still enjoy many of their favorite Christmastime traditions and they will still be getting gifts on Christmas Day!
They can even keep making cookies and milk for Santa if they want to. And even continue pretending he exists if it makes the holidays more fun for them!
Knowing when to spill the beans about Santa’s existence can be a little bit daunting. You already decided the magic of Santa Claus was important to your family, and it’s been fun making that magic come alive every year.
Only you can decide when it’s best to tell your child the party’s over. But don’t make it a sad thing, make it more like a rite of passage so your child feels super proud to graduate to the next level!
This post on Christmas traditions for kids may help you figure out how to tell the truth about Santa and keep the magic alive. There are so many traditions that you can replace Santa with that will be fun and memorable for your child!
Hopefully this helped you figure out how to tell your child there is no Santa. Just remember that Christmas can still be super special and even magical without the Santa Claus myth.
Focusing on the reason for the season can help shift focus from an imaginary being.