For some parents, it’s one of the most dreaded sentences they can hear.
“Mum, is Santa real?”
Sinking heart. The child continues.
“Because this boy in my class called Rory told me that Santa isn’t real. He says parents give the presents and Santa is just made up.”
Curse Rory. Desperately try to think of the one right thing to say to keep the magic of Christmas alive.
I’ve seen this problem pop up so many times in online mums’ groups, and it causes genuine heartache. There are some mothers who just aren’t ready to let go of Santa when their child starts to question him. Other sympathetic mums offer advice – apps or movies or books that might convince the child, or elaborate schemes.
Invariably, someone will suggest the “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive” line. In other words, kids need to play along with the Santa myth, or else they won’t get any presents.
But is this the right way to go?
Parenting expert and dad-of-six Dr Justin Coulson says it’s not.
“The parenting expert has a really simple line, and that is tell them the truth, and tell them the truth as soon as they’re interested,” he tells Mamamia.
“Research around honesty indicates that lying to your kids isn’t helpful. It’s just not good for the relationship and it’s not good for trust.”
LISTEN: We discuss at what age it’s appropriate to tell the kids mum and dad are really Santa, on our podcast for imperfect parents. Post continues after audio.
Dr Coulson says he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with kids being introduced to the Santa myth at a young age.
“While the children choose to have an interest and believe, I think that that should be embraced and enjoyed and celebrated,” he explains. “But I also believe that once the children are old enough to actually start to question, whether they’ve heard it from a big sister or brother or from someone at school, they’re going to start asking that question.”
“And I think, as parents, we’re duty bound to tell our children the truth about all sorts of things in life, including whether Santa is real.”
Dr Coulson believes parents need to be careful about how they tell the truth about Santa. They should first ask their child why they think Santa might not be real, and encourage them to think about it. Then they should explain the origins of Santa, before finally admitting the truth.
“Tell them, ‘Guess what, it is us, but we love the magic that comes with it and we love that you’ve enjoyed believing in Santa for all these years.’”
He says parents should reassure children that “Santa” will continue to give them presents until they’re 12 or 15 or 18 – whatever age they think is appropriate.