What to Do When Your Child Starts Talking About Santa Not Being Real
It wasn’t even Thanksgiving last year, and my 7 year old was already talking. We were driving home from school with her 5-year-old brother, our 6-year-old neighbor, when all of a sudden she said, “Santa isn’t real.”
While there are some good tips on what to do when your child no longer believes , I was unprepared for the potential social consequences of my daughter destroying the hopes and dreams of other children. So I asked Shoshana Fagen,Franciscan Kids psychologist and psychiatrist and parenting coach Jess Bichkofsky, for some advice on what parents should do if their child tells others that Santa isn’t there.
Enlist their help or abandon history altogether
First, they both said, isolate the speaker. “It’s a good idea to have your older child sit alone to talk to them about your expectations,” Fagan says. Then appeal to their egos. “Talk to your child about how smart they are,” Bichofsky says. “Sometimes, if you really want to keep the story secret, you can collude with the enemy and make him buy into the continuation of the trick. The child may be interested in learning the truth and colluding with adults to keep the story alive,” she says.
Bichkofsky also offers transparency: “Explain why the story is important to the whole family, why you keep telling it, and that it’s important to you that it continues as long as possible (i.e. don’t tell your little brother!’)”
Be aware that your child may feel betrayed if you tell him that his theories are correct. “Kids can have surprisingly complex feelings about something super magical being a huge fictional story that almost everyone is involved in,” says Bichkofsky. So she suggests giving them a chance to express their feelings and letting them know that you hear their grievances.
“If you want to continue the tradition of Santa in your family after the child stops believing, that’s fine. Just keep in mind that you both know it’s just a tradition now,” Fagan says.
If children who are unexpectedly told the truth are upset, you will need to make some choices. “The easiest solution is to make sure everyone is up to date with the story,” Bitchkofsky says, meaning you may have to let go of the magic before you can expect your younger children. It may be sad, but as Fagan adds, “It’s always okay to let go of any family tradition you started earlier. No tradition is a lifetime commitment.”
How to deal with other people’s children
Try not to talk about Santa at all with other children, especially because “they may have some differences in their Santa story that has been passed down through the generations,” Fagan says. “You wouldn’t want to accidentally ruin part of their Santa Claus story unknowingly.”
However, if it does come up, “be as noncommittal and vague as possible,” says Bichkofsky. “Try to be thoughtful in your choice of words. I would recommend dropping “We don’t believe in Santa here”, which hints that he’s not real, and “He doesn’t visit our house”, which is true but doesn’t give any idea of what he made up. “.
For a direct question, Bitchkofsky says, if a child directly asks you about the existence of Mr. Claus, say, “We don’t talk about politics, religion, or Santa Claus without your parents’ written permission.” Legal jargon might work for them, but if they look at you too dumb, you can also say, “Great question! I bet your mom would like to talk to you about this some more,” she says.
If the kids your child told this story to aren’t yours, you need to let the parents know what happened – you don’t want that kind of conversation to happen at their next play or family dinner. “For some, this is a huge loss, and they really feel like their little ones are a lot closer to leaving,” says Bichkofsky.
If other parents are angry with you, don’t beat yourself up too much. “Apologizing can help an upset parent, but all kids eventually learn the truth about Santa in a variety of ways that are out of your control,” says Bichkofsky.
Growing up is about little moments of clarity. Helping your children go through these realizations gently and lovingly is part of the job, even if reaching those milestones is bittersweet.