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Should I Tell My Child Santa Is Real?

ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years communication holidays relationships siblings Dec 06, 2023


Parents, here’s a big question this time of year: What do you tell your kids when they ask if Santa Claus is real?  There’s no right answer.  It’s a personal decision for each family to make, and there will be lots of cultural considerations that go along with that decision, as well as how to handle all other fantasy-related holidays and activities, from the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy.  These decisions can have a significant impact on their childhood holiday experience, their relationship with us, their interactions with friends and peers, and definitely any younger siblings.  Dive into this week’s tips to explore these important considerations and hear how I decided to handle this topic in my own family.


Their Childhood Holiday Experience 

First, let's consider how telling your child that Santa is real will affect their childhood holiday experience.  Believing in Santa can bring a sense of magic and wonder to this special time of year.  It can create excitement and anticipation and make the holiday season even more memorable.  However, it's important to be mindful of the potential disappointment that may arise when children eventually learn the truth.  Some children may feel betrayed or deceived, while others may transition smoothly into a new phase of understanding.


Their Relationship With You

Next, let's think about how telling your child that Santa is real will impact your relationship with them.  For many parents, being part of the Santa Claus tradition can be a joyful and bonding experience.  It allows us to create cherished memories and share in the excitement of the season.  However, it's essential to maintain trust and honesty with our children.  If they discover that we have been perpetuating a myth, it may affect their trust in us.  Finding a balance between fostering their imagination and being truthful is key.


Their Beliefs Affect Them Socially

Another consideration is how telling your child that Santa is real will affect their relationships with friends and peers at school.  Belief in Santa is often a shared experience among children, and it can be a topic of conversation and camaraderie.  However, if your child learns the truth before (or after) their peers, it may lead to confusion or even embarrassment.  It's essential to be aware of the social dynamics surrounding this topic and support your child in navigating these interactions with sensitivity and understanding.


Their Beliefs Affect Younger Siblings

Additionally, we must consider how telling your child that Santa is real will impact their younger siblings.  Younger siblings often look up to their older siblings and may believe in Santa because of their influence.  It's important to consider how revealing the truth to one child may affect the younger ones.  Finding a strategy that allows older children to maintain their belief while leaving room for suspicion can help prolong the youthful fantasy enjoyment phase without negatively impacting younger siblings.  If older siblings learn the truth at the right age, they can get on board with helping younger siblings enjoy the holiday experience and get a sense of satisfaction from being part of Team Santa.


You’ve Got to Believe to Receive 

It’s tough to balance all these considerations and decide how to handle the Santa fantasy, as well as others that come up every year around Easter, every time a tooth is lost, or even at Halloween if you practice the “Switch Witch” candy trade strategy.  Books like The Polar Express create an opportunity to conceptualize Santa as only bringing gifts to children who believe in him.  Kids love receiving gifts, so you can utilize this concept to help your child navigate that tricky period when they seem too young to learn the truth about Santa - when they’re at an age where they may be devastated by the news or immediately go blabbing to much younger siblings.  Family dynamics are much smoother when children can hang on to some of the mystery of Santa Claus until they are in early elementary school and have a little more ability to make good choices about who they’re going to share their newfound knowledge with.

So, how do you apply this concept to your home?  What I have always said to my children when they ask if Santa is real is, “You've got to believe to receive.”  Kids love gifts, and this strategy emphasizes the importance of belief in Santa Claus to receive gifts.  It allows children to continue enjoying the magic of Santa while also planting seeds of doubt and curiosity.  You are never overtly lying to your child, which is important, but you’re not directly answering their question - at least not at first.  This approach can help prepare them for the reality of learning that Santa is not real while also allowing them to transition gradually and with a sense of empowerment.


It's important to mention cultural considerations when making decisions about holiday traditions.  Different cultures and families have their own unique customs and beliefs.  It's essential to respect and honor these traditions while also considering what aligns best with your family's values and beliefs.  I’ve shared my own family’s approach to holidays that involve fantasy characters in hopes that you might benefit from this approach, but as with all tricky parenting decisions, you’ll find the approach that works best for your unique parent-child dynamic.


Take-Home Message

Parents, the decision of whether or not to tell your child that Santa is real is a personal one that should be based on your family's needs and values.  Consider the impact on your child's holiday experience, your relationship with them, their interactions with friends and peers at school, and their younger siblings.  Consider using the "You've got to believe to receive" approach to prolong the magic while preparing them for the truth.  Ultimately, trust your instincts and choose an approach that feels right for your family.   Happy holidays to your amazing family!


Discussing sensitive topics like fantasy holiday figures is part of the Communication category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (click here to learn more about the 5 C’s).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!

Chris Van Allsburg, author of The Polar Express, wrote many wonderful books you can enjoy reading together with your child.  Check out my Treasures - Books page to find book recommendations by age group and to discover some of my family’s favorite books.

Also, be sure to download my freebie called 5 Tips to Thrive as a Family at the Holidays! to learn more tips to help your family thrive during this busy holiday season.


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Amazing parenting is not about always saying
and doing the right thing and raising perfect children.  It’s about becoming intentional in your parenting and proactive in learning skills to help you parent more effectively in a way that fits best for your unique parent-child dynamics.

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