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
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!
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