This is a question that no parent can avoid.
I remember distinctly when my son Connor, now 11, asked me about the existence of Santa. I was putting him to bed one night about four years shortly before Christmas.
“Is Santa real?” Connor asked abruptly.
Talk about being put on the spot. I didn’t have a ready answer. I had thought only vaguely about how I would answer the question – some day. Not now.
“Well,” I said, trying to buy some time. “Do you want to know the truth?”
I was a little disappointed, hoping we could preserve the Santa myth a little longer. But now, being asked pointblank, I wasn’t going to lie.
“No, Santa is not real,” I told Connor.
“I knew it!” he said. “It didn’t make any sense to me.”
I let out a sigh of relief that he took the potentially devastating news of the Santa scam in stride. I was afraid he’d be mad at me for perpetuating it.
We both laughed at the ridiculousness of a fat guy flying all over the world on one night, wriggling down chimneys and leaving gifts, then departing undetected.
Connor and I still laugh about the “Santa moment” at our house.
What’s the normal age for a kid to stop believing in Santa? I don’t know.
But I know many parents wrestle with the issue. It’s fun to preserve the centuries-old Santa story, but you’re also lying to your kid. Face it.
Some Christians, in particular, dislike the focus on Santa. They think Christmas should be a time to emphasize the birth of Christ, not the arrival of a jolly old fat guy.
Personally, I had pondered the Santa question ever since Connor was born. In his first few years, I was convinced I’d tell him the truth early. I couldn’t see lying to him. But as he approached about 5 or 6, I had swung the other direction: What’s the harm in letting a child believe in Santa?
I was glad Connor raised the issue himself. It let me off the hook in trying to broach the subject.
Search the web, and you’ll find plenty of advice for parents about Santa.
“Santa is just one of the many fantasy figures that exist in a preschooler’s world,” says child psychologist Bruce Henderson in an article on msnbc.com.
He doesn’t see any damage in allowing kids to believe in Santa at a young age. But when a child asks directly, as mine did, if Santa is real, truth is the best answer, Henderson says.
Most kids will not be devastated when they find out, he says.
“A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that children are remarkably resilient in response to hurt and disappointment,” Henderson says.
He offers good advice on lessening the drama of the eventual Santa question: When a child is very young, don’t build up and embellish the fantasy.
“Forcing an elaborate Santa Claus story on children serves no good purpose for child or parent,” Henderson says. “On the other hand, following the child’s lead in fantasy play about Santa Claus is likely to do no more harm that imaginative play surrounding Elmo or Mickey Mouse.”
Parenting experts disagree on when or how you should tell children the truth about Santa Claus. Decide for yourself what approach makes you comfortable. It’s OK to perpetuate the myth when children are young. You can wait for them to ask if Santa is real. But when they do, it’s best not to lie.