It's only October and we have ... Santa questions!

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 5, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hello.

My 9-year-old son has been questioning the existence of Santa Claus, and others (Tooth Fairy, etc.). He still believes, but says he is the only one is his school class that does. I told him they are real, but know I am wondering when I should tell him the truth. This is a tough call, I do not know how to handle it. Any advice? thank you!

From: Arthur, Billerica

Hi Arthur,

When I first wrote about this issue (in 1989, yikes!), I was surprised at what the psychologists had to say: that Santa is the one lie it's OK for parents to tell.

I don't know of any professional who would disagree with that today. The reason, of course, is that it's a lie that brings pleasure and delight, not one filled with malicious deceit. Perhaps more importantly, developmentally children want to believe in something bigger than themselves and are cognitively capable of separating fantasy from fact. Aren't magical connections what childhood is all about, after all?

(In a story I wrote about this in 1998, I listened as preschoolers told their teacher that they could tell the "real" Santa from "fake" Santas at the department store by pulling on his beard. Only the real Santa had a real beard.)

But here's the other side of the coin. These experts also universally agree that there comes a time in every child's life when it's important to acknowledge that Santa (and the Tooth Fairy et al) is not real. When that time comes will be different for each child. Some 5-year-olds begin to question Santa but won't tell you so because they enjoy it, just as we do. Some may even think that by voicing their doubts, they jinx Santa or themselves. Some children may keep their questions to themselves for years.

But when they finally insist, "I want to know," it is time to come clean:

1. Take your cue from him. If he's asking, "How does he make the reindeer fly? How does he get to every house?" offer a mysterious smile, a twinkle in your eye, and an ``I-always-thought-he-was-real'' answer. If that holds him, then that's our clue that he wants to hold on to the fantasy a little longer, but he wants you to know that he's not as gullible as he once was.

2. If his response to that is, "C'mon, I really want to know," then it's not fair to string him along; it's not only deceitful but also disrespectful. That doesn't mean you have to totally burst the bubble, however. You can also:

Tell how much fun it is for you, even as an adult, to enjoy the fantasy of Santa: ``It's makes me feel good to think about Santa, even though I know he isn't real.''

Talk about how Santa symbolizes the spirit of giving: ``I know Santa isn't real, but I love the way he makes people feel good about giving.''

Ask him not to spoil it for younger children, just as you didn't spoil it for him. "Let's make this our secret, because your sisters still believe in Santa."

For every child in every family, there's a different story about this. I'd love to hear some of them!

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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18 comments so far...
  1. When my two daughters found out about Santa, I explained to them that now they can be part of the magic by helping their younger brother, cousins, neighbors, etc. believe. This made them feel better about it and they got so into it!

    Posted by True Believer October 5, 09 10:03 AM
  1. When my daughter started to doubt I let it go for a little while but when she outright asked me, I confirmed her suspicion and told her the truth. She wasn't at all upset that Santa wasn't real but she was very upset that we had lied to her. She next asked about the Easter Bunny and again I told her he wasn't real. She thought about it for a couple of minutes and then said "Did you make up the Pilgrims too." We still chuckle about this every Thanksgiving.

    Posted by KeK October 5, 09 10:10 AM
  1. I once read that no child really wants to hear the statement "Santa is not real." The best response, it was suggested, is to answer honestly but in the affirmative--for example, "Santa is real in our hearts" or "Santa may not dress in red and live in the North Pole, but he an expression of the love we have for each other, or a way to be extra kind to each other." Even ten to twelve year olds, who may know the truth, might like to hang on to the illusion, so a parent might say, "It's fun to think there's a big jolly man in the North Pole, with elves and magic reindeer--even when we know better!"

    Posted by J. Sullivan October 5, 09 10:25 AM
  1. I got a hunch around 6 that Santa wasn't real, but I still had a little glimmer of hope that he was, and was TERRIFIED that if I questioned his existence, Christmas as I knew it would fall apart. As a result, I never mentioned my questions to either of my parents. Ever! I'm now 24 and it still hasn't been discussed. Obviously things become more transparent as we grow older, and probably at around age 8, my parents and I had an unspoken understanding that I knew Santa didn't exist, and in high school I began slipping my parents trinkets to "give via Santa". While my family is all adults now, it's still nice to wake up to magical morning, even if it's obviously pretend, and now put on by all of us. Don't force the issue with your kids if you aren't entirely sure they're ready for the conversation. What's the harm in giving them one morning of magic a year?

    Posted by Emily October 5, 09 10:42 AM
  1. I'm 48 and I wish I still believed. There are so few magical things left anymore.

    Posted by Monique VanDeSoaker October 5, 09 10:59 AM
  1. I couldn't agree more. My son is 11 and still is holding onto the belief that both Santa and the Tooth Fairy actually exist. I think its wonderful. Life is short and kids grow up fast. Why not retain as much of their childhood as possible by continuing in believing in something that brings them absolute, uncompromised joy and satisfaction. I am also of the belief that Santa is a perfect symbol of the spirit of Christmas. That will be my position if and when he is ready to let go.

    Posted by Robert Napolitano October 5, 09 11:04 AM
  1. too late, the cat is out of the bag....tx. well done

    Posted by chexican October 5, 09 11:08 AM
  1. What? Santa isn't real?? Oh great, next thing you know, there's not such thing as the Great Pumkin, Charlie Brown!

    Posted by Dennis October 5, 09 11:28 AM
  1. After the Santa talk, you'll have to have the Jesus talk. Better not to lie to those who trust in you.

    Posted by raoul October 5, 09 12:02 PM
  1. I told my 8 year old that Santa is real as long as you believe. And that it's a terrible thing to destroy that faith in your sister or cousins or anyone who really believes. Plus, believing in Santa makes Christmas so much more magical ... do you really want to not believe? She seems to understand that rationale.
    I remember when my mother finally confirmed Santa was not real ... I was crushed (even though I knew the truth). For years, I wished she hadn't confirmed it so completely ...

    Posted by Brenda October 5, 09 12:07 PM
  1. The infamous topic. I'm the mom of 2 children, aged 9 and 6. I too wondered for a really long time about what is appropriate when it comes to Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and then one day (a very long time ago) I was asking my sister-in-law who gave me the best advice I have received since I became a parent; she said "ask them what they think and if there correct don't lie to them".
    I have lived by this with alot of questions (some more serious involved then other, if you catch my drift). When he asked me about 7 months ago if Santa was real (b/c his friends too were telling him that he wasn't real) I asked him what he thought and he still believed, I agreed and left it alone. Then Easter came and he was convinced that there wasn't a 6 foot bunny that came in and left goodies for him and his sister. He concluded on his own that he was not real and then a week or so later came and asked me about the Tooth fairy and wondered why she would want all those teeth and concluded that she isn't real.
    Then Santa came very shortly after that, he asked, I asked him what he thought and he said he didn't believe b/c he knew that the Celtic tickets I had gotten him and my hubby for X-mas came from a friend of mine and not from Santa.
    Kids conclude things on their own and I feel lke your son is right at that age. I feel as a parent that you shouldn't lie to them, keep it going for as long as possible, simple b/c it's fun, but when you tell them the truth about things they will always trust you and that as they get older is so important.
    One other things was it was slightly exciting to have my son learn the truth b/c all the credit that this figure got over the years was finally mine and my husbands!!

    Posted by Heather October 5, 09 12:23 PM
  1. I think you had a really good take on this. My husband is always ashamed when I bring up how he ruined believing for other children in his class. His father was very anti-organized religion and did not want his children believing any of these stories so he told them about how it was a farce from day 1. One of the boys from my husband's class told the other students Santa was real because even the reindeer drank the water he left out and my husband told him "No - it's all fake" so the other boy started crying. My husband ruined it for the other boy and it was sad so I would say it is important for siblings/friends to not ruin it for others.

    Posted by Isabel October 5, 09 12:44 PM
  1. My reasoning for believing that the fantasy is OK is that even the older kids don't tell, never mind the parents. My kindergartner was questioning one day at school and all the older kids worked very hard to convince her that of course Santa was real! It would be a perfect way for an older sibling to torment a younger sib and cause them real hurt - but they don't do it.

    Posted by Jean October 5, 09 12:47 PM
  1. I know that my time has probably come . . . my daughter is ten, and probably has "known" for a bit, but is still playing along, and I'm not going to bring it up until she does. Her friend from down the street said something to my sister this summer, though, about how she's know for YEARS that Santa isn't real and that any kid that believes is pretty dumb. My sister nearly died, because my younger niece who still very much believes was there. I don't think she heard, though. When my daughter does bring it up and we do talk about it I will most certainly stress to her that she should remember how wonderful it was to believe and that she should not be the one to take that away from anyone.
    When my daughter asked a few years ago how Santa did it all, I answered "It has to to with physics, something to do with the space-time continuum. I don't really understand it myself because it is pretty complicated." Lucky for us, she doesn't know any rocket scientists that she could ask herself!

    Posted by Mary Anne October 5, 09 04:44 PM
  1. It's a very interesting subject. Here's something else to consider. My legal name is Santa Claus. I'm a full-time volunteer advocate for the 2 million children in the U.S. annually who are abused, neglected, exploited, abandoned, homeless, and institutionalized through no fault of their own. That's 1 out of 37 children in our great nation. I'm also a Christian Monk, as St. Nicholas was many centuries ago, and believe that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, not the crass, commercial, secular spectacle is has become in many places, and that the greatest gift one can give is love, not presents. When children ask me if I'm the Santa Claus from a long time ago, I usually reply that my name is Santa Claus and that I represent the loving and giving nature and spirit of Santa Claus, as many of my beloved helpers do (including parents). When I walk through my community, many children recognize me all year long. I noticed that, when middle school children take their lunch break, sometimes they will hesitate to address me as Santa--until high schoolers, also on lunch break, come up and say, "Hi, Santa!" Then, of course, it's 'cool' to call me Santa. I've discovered that most older high school students here know and respect my using my name and appearance to advocate for the health, safety, and welfare of vulnerable children in dire straits. So, they tend to endorse my work by identifying me as Santa and are not shy about recognizing and interacting with my loving and giving spirit. I think its a good thing that they are respectful enough of what I'm doing for all children to share that concept with younger students. Once children 'get' what this Santa is doing they don't appear to be embarrassed at all by recognizing me as "Santa" and calling me by my name. I am hopeful that your readers will visit TheSantaClausFoundation dot org and learn a bit about a real Santa who exists today who truly and unconditionally loves all children. I feel that my appearance and, now, my name are gifts from God and are useful tools for advocating on behalf of children. All children, no matter what, are blessings from God and deserve to be loved and know that they are loved. The greatest gift is love. Blessings to all, Santa Claus :-)}

    Posted by Santa Claus October 5, 09 06:47 PM
  1. My daughter questioned and and I would answer her question with a question. She would ask if he was real and I would say "do you believe " ??? She would say yes and I wold say that is all that matters. There was one time when I went into Tedeschi's convienent store and the man behind the counter who was not from this country asked her if she was ready for Christmas and she said yes and then he went on to tell her that Santa was not real and it was your mother and father. I almost LOST IT ! I took her to school and went back to the store and yelled at him so bad and then stopped going there for about a year ! He said he was only kidding and that he had kids too and would never do something like that seriously but I was so upset. Fast forward a few years and she is now 12 and I think either last year or the year before she came right out and asked and I did tell her and she said I knew it I just did not want to say anything because I was afraid if I did not believe I would not get any presents. I told her she would still get the same amount it would just be a different name on the tag (who the gift was from). But I still make some of the tags out from Santa and she says "Thank you SANTA ! " after she opens the gift.

    Posted by Beth- October 7, 09 02:47 PM
  1. I have tears in my eyes reading this. I'm almost 40, and yet I am still angry at my cousins who were two and six years older than I who "told me" at age five. Cornered me at a family event and honestly, broke my heart. They had happy home lives, but I did not. For me, that fantasy world was a very happy place, and I relished believing that there was someone out there who loved me and wanted to make me happy. To take that from me was devastating. My parents did leave Christmas presents from Santa, and I never told them I "knew," but it was terrible to pretend for all of those years, knowing my younger siblings' joy was real. A good part of me still hates those cousins for that, despite the fact that I'm a successful, happy person now.

    Posted by local October 8, 09 02:08 PM
  1. I plan to tell my kids, when they ask, that I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. It's not a lie, and it should be enough to satisfy a kid who is curious but wants to keep believing. If the child really wants to know, she has the opportunity to ask a point-blank follow up question.

    Posted by lauren November 23, 09 04:25 PM
 
18 comments so far...
  1. When my two daughters found out about Santa, I explained to them that now they can be part of the magic by helping their younger brother, cousins, neighbors, etc. believe. This made them feel better about it and they got so into it!

    Posted by True Believer October 5, 09 10:03 AM
  1. When my daughter started to doubt I let it go for a little while but when she outright asked me, I confirmed her suspicion and told her the truth. She wasn't at all upset that Santa wasn't real but she was very upset that we had lied to her. She next asked about the Easter Bunny and again I told her he wasn't real. She thought about it for a couple of minutes and then said "Did you make up the Pilgrims too." We still chuckle about this every Thanksgiving.

    Posted by KeK October 5, 09 10:10 AM
  1. I once read that no child really wants to hear the statement "Santa is not real." The best response, it was suggested, is to answer honestly but in the affirmative--for example, "Santa is real in our hearts" or "Santa may not dress in red and live in the North Pole, but he an expression of the love we have for each other, or a way to be extra kind to each other." Even ten to twelve year olds, who may know the truth, might like to hang on to the illusion, so a parent might say, "It's fun to think there's a big jolly man in the North Pole, with elves and magic reindeer--even when we know better!"

    Posted by J. Sullivan October 5, 09 10:25 AM
  1. I got a hunch around 6 that Santa wasn't real, but I still had a little glimmer of hope that he was, and was TERRIFIED that if I questioned his existence, Christmas as I knew it would fall apart. As a result, I never mentioned my questions to either of my parents. Ever! I'm now 24 and it still hasn't been discussed. Obviously things become more transparent as we grow older, and probably at around age 8, my parents and I had an unspoken understanding that I knew Santa didn't exist, and in high school I began slipping my parents trinkets to "give via Santa". While my family is all adults now, it's still nice to wake up to magical morning, even if it's obviously pretend, and now put on by all of us. Don't force the issue with your kids if you aren't entirely sure they're ready for the conversation. What's the harm in giving them one morning of magic a year?

    Posted by Emily October 5, 09 10:42 AM
  1. I'm 48 and I wish I still believed. There are so few magical things left anymore.

    Posted by Monique VanDeSoaker October 5, 09 10:59 AM
  1. I couldn't agree more. My son is 11 and still is holding onto the belief that both Santa and the Tooth Fairy actually exist. I think its wonderful. Life is short and kids grow up fast. Why not retain as much of their childhood as possible by continuing in believing in something that brings them absolute, uncompromised joy and satisfaction. I am also of the belief that Santa is a perfect symbol of the spirit of Christmas. That will be my position if and when he is ready to let go.

    Posted by Robert Napolitano October 5, 09 11:04 AM
  1. too late, the cat is out of the bag....tx. well done

    Posted by chexican October 5, 09 11:08 AM
  1. What? Santa isn't real?? Oh great, next thing you know, there's not such thing as the Great Pumkin, Charlie Brown!

    Posted by Dennis October 5, 09 11:28 AM
  1. After the Santa talk, you'll have to have the Jesus talk. Better not to lie to those who trust in you.

    Posted by raoul October 5, 09 12:02 PM
  1. I told my 8 year old that Santa is real as long as you believe. And that it's a terrible thing to destroy that faith in your sister or cousins or anyone who really believes. Plus, believing in Santa makes Christmas so much more magical ... do you really want to not believe? She seems to understand that rationale.
    I remember when my mother finally confirmed Santa was not real ... I was crushed (even though I knew the truth). For years, I wished she hadn't confirmed it so completely ...

    Posted by Brenda October 5, 09 12:07 PM
  1. The infamous topic. I'm the mom of 2 children, aged 9 and 6. I too wondered for a really long time about what is appropriate when it comes to Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and then one day (a very long time ago) I was asking my sister-in-law who gave me the best advice I have received since I became a parent; she said "ask them what they think and if there correct don't lie to them".
    I have lived by this with alot of questions (some more serious involved then other, if you catch my drift). When he asked me about 7 months ago if Santa was real (b/c his friends too were telling him that he wasn't real) I asked him what he thought and he still believed, I agreed and left it alone. Then Easter came and he was convinced that there wasn't a 6 foot bunny that came in and left goodies for him and his sister. He concluded on his own that he was not real and then a week or so later came and asked me about the Tooth fairy and wondered why she would want all those teeth and concluded that she isn't real.
    Then Santa came very shortly after that, he asked, I asked him what he thought and he said he didn't believe b/c he knew that the Celtic tickets I had gotten him and my hubby for X-mas came from a friend of mine and not from Santa.
    Kids conclude things on their own and I feel lke your son is right at that age. I feel as a parent that you shouldn't lie to them, keep it going for as long as possible, simple b/c it's fun, but when you tell them the truth about things they will always trust you and that as they get older is so important.
    One other things was it was slightly exciting to have my son learn the truth b/c all the credit that this figure got over the years was finally mine and my husbands!!

    Posted by Heather October 5, 09 12:23 PM
  1. I think you had a really good take on this. My husband is always ashamed when I bring up how he ruined believing for other children in his class. His father was very anti-organized religion and did not want his children believing any of these stories so he told them about how it was a farce from day 1. One of the boys from my husband's class told the other students Santa was real because even the reindeer drank the water he left out and my husband told him "No - it's all fake" so the other boy started crying. My husband ruined it for the other boy and it was sad so I would say it is important for siblings/friends to not ruin it for others.

    Posted by Isabel October 5, 09 12:44 PM
  1. My reasoning for believing that the fantasy is OK is that even the older kids don't tell, never mind the parents. My kindergartner was questioning one day at school and all the older kids worked very hard to convince her that of course Santa was real! It would be a perfect way for an older sibling to torment a younger sib and cause them real hurt - but they don't do it.

    Posted by Jean October 5, 09 12:47 PM
  1. I know that my time has probably come . . . my daughter is ten, and probably has "known" for a bit, but is still playing along, and I'm not going to bring it up until she does. Her friend from down the street said something to my sister this summer, though, about how she's know for YEARS that Santa isn't real and that any kid that believes is pretty dumb. My sister nearly died, because my younger niece who still very much believes was there. I don't think she heard, though. When my daughter does bring it up and we do talk about it I will most certainly stress to her that she should remember how wonderful it was to believe and that she should not be the one to take that away from anyone.
    When my daughter asked a few years ago how Santa did it all, I answered "It has to to with physics, something to do with the space-time continuum. I don't really understand it myself because it is pretty complicated." Lucky for us, she doesn't know any rocket scientists that she could ask herself!

    Posted by Mary Anne October 5, 09 04:44 PM
  1. It's a very interesting subject. Here's something else to consider. My legal name is Santa Claus. I'm a full-time volunteer advocate for the 2 million children in the U.S. annually who are abused, neglected, exploited, abandoned, homeless, and institutionalized through no fault of their own. That's 1 out of 37 children in our great nation. I'm also a Christian Monk, as St. Nicholas was many centuries ago, and believe that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, not the crass, commercial, secular spectacle is has become in many places, and that the greatest gift one can give is love, not presents. When children ask me if I'm the Santa Claus from a long time ago, I usually reply that my name is Santa Claus and that I represent the loving and giving nature and spirit of Santa Claus, as many of my beloved helpers do (including parents). When I walk through my community, many children recognize me all year long. I noticed that, when middle school children take their lunch break, sometimes they will hesitate to address me as Santa--until high schoolers, also on lunch break, come up and say, "Hi, Santa!" Then, of course, it's 'cool' to call me Santa. I've discovered that most older high school students here know and respect my using my name and appearance to advocate for the health, safety, and welfare of vulnerable children in dire straits. So, they tend to endorse my work by identifying me as Santa and are not shy about recognizing and interacting with my loving and giving spirit. I think its a good thing that they are respectful enough of what I'm doing for all children to share that concept with younger students. Once children 'get' what this Santa is doing they don't appear to be embarrassed at all by recognizing me as "Santa" and calling me by my name. I am hopeful that your readers will visit TheSantaClausFoundation dot org and learn a bit about a real Santa who exists today who truly and unconditionally loves all children. I feel that my appearance and, now, my name are gifts from God and are useful tools for advocating on behalf of children. All children, no matter what, are blessings from God and deserve to be loved and know that they are loved. The greatest gift is love. Blessings to all, Santa Claus :-)}

    Posted by Santa Claus October 5, 09 06:47 PM
  1. My daughter questioned and and I would answer her question with a question. She would ask if he was real and I would say "do you believe " ??? She would say yes and I wold say that is all that matters. There was one time when I went into Tedeschi's convienent store and the man behind the counter who was not from this country asked her if she was ready for Christmas and she said yes and then he went on to tell her that Santa was not real and it was your mother and father. I almost LOST IT ! I took her to school and went back to the store and yelled at him so bad and then stopped going there for about a year ! He said he was only kidding and that he had kids too and would never do something like that seriously but I was so upset. Fast forward a few years and she is now 12 and I think either last year or the year before she came right out and asked and I did tell her and she said I knew it I just did not want to say anything because I was afraid if I did not believe I would not get any presents. I told her she would still get the same amount it would just be a different name on the tag (who the gift was from). But I still make some of the tags out from Santa and she says "Thank you SANTA ! " after she opens the gift.

    Posted by Beth- October 7, 09 02:47 PM
  1. I have tears in my eyes reading this. I'm almost 40, and yet I am still angry at my cousins who were two and six years older than I who "told me" at age five. Cornered me at a family event and honestly, broke my heart. They had happy home lives, but I did not. For me, that fantasy world was a very happy place, and I relished believing that there was someone out there who loved me and wanted to make me happy. To take that from me was devastating. My parents did leave Christmas presents from Santa, and I never told them I "knew," but it was terrible to pretend for all of those years, knowing my younger siblings' joy was real. A good part of me still hates those cousins for that, despite the fact that I'm a successful, happy person now.

    Posted by local October 8, 09 02:08 PM
  1. I plan to tell my kids, when they ask, that I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. It's not a lie, and it should be enough to satisfy a kid who is curious but wants to keep believing. If the child really wants to know, she has the opportunity to ask a point-blank follow up question.

    Posted by lauren November 23, 09 04:25 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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