"Is Santa Real?" How to Handle the Santa Question Like a Pro
If your child asks, "Is Santa real," don’t panic. Check out our list of helpful tips for how to handle this conversation for every age group.
It was a day just like any other. You're sitting in the usual after-school car line (accompanied by the usual suspects of parents, babysitters, and nannies), "Candy Crush"-ing it up, bracing for yet another breathless recap of life in the 2nd grade. Then, you see her...sulking over to the car, the usual pep in her step nowhere to be found.
"What's up buttercup? How was your day?"
She plops down in a huff.
"'Mom.... is Santa real?"
Oh god – it's here. The day has come.
You look around in a panic, palms sweaty, knees weak, arms spaghetti, thoughts swirling in your head as you search for a mildly believable explanation to feed her.
"Pft of course he is! We see him at the mall every year, remember? With all of his little holiday helpers? Why do you ask?"
"Jimmy says his older brother says he's not and only babies believe in Santa so I'm a baby"
Mental note: Jimmy is henceforth OFF the birthday party invite list.
Next to "Where do babies come from," "Is Santa real" ranks as parents' #2 most-dreaded question of all time. At some point, your little one's beliefs in Ol' Saint Nick will be tested; all it takes is one mini Grinch in your child's class to say "Santa isn't real!" for your kid to come home with a lot with questions.
Mom, you've got some 'splainin to do.
So, what's the best way to handle the "Is Santa real" discussion? Ultimately, how and when you decide to have the talk around Santa's existence will greatly depend upon your children and your family.
For those of you who feel like this discussion is just around the corner, we’ve asked a few experts to share their tips on how to handle telling your kids that Santa isn’t real, no matter what age.
Tips for Handling the "Is Santa Real?" Question -- By Age Group
Chances are good that your toddler isn’t going to wonder whether or not Santa is real. If a fellow preschooler happens to spill the beans, however, don’t worry too much. Chances are, they are much too little to remember the conversation by the next holiday season, anyway.
A good way to keep the spirit alive and engage some playful convincing is to log onto the official NORAD Santa Tracker, which allows you to track Santa’s journey around the globe!
Or you could even show them some rare, “live footage” of Santa to drum up some extra magic.
At this age, Nancy Buck, Ph.D., a developmental psychologist and author of "How to Be a Great Parent," suggests asking questions to understand why your child wants to know. Your answer will be shaped by those answers. “Does this child still believe and is looking for better understanding and confirmation,” asks Dr. Buck. “Has this child heard conflicting information from another source and your child has started to wonder? Does this child absolutely believe that Santa is a myth and is curious to know if you will persist in lying?”
“It depends [and] could be anywhere between the ages of 4 to 9, with 7 being an average,” said parenting blogger and mental health expert, Dan Thorne. “It’s the time when a child starts to look at the things around her and wonder if she should believe Santa and his elves are real or not.”
Many parents hold out as long as possible to avoid the inevitable letdown, which may come between the ages of 8 and 11.
“This past spring, my 10-year-old lost a tooth and I just couldn't have him going to school telling everyone the tooth fairy came,” says Melissa Moraja, a children's book author. “I would have held out one more year if it wasn't for that darn tooth fairy. It really bothered me. It was 8:30 p.m. when I told him. I remember the time so vividly, because it was the time when I felt like he lost some innocence. When I told him the tooth fairy wasn't real, that just opened up the discussion for me having to tell him about the Easter Bunny and Santa. Lots of tears and hugs that night.”
When the conversation arises, Thorne recommends being honest, truthful and comforting. Have the conversation as you would any other and “remember, you’re practicing for when you have to discuss sex, relationships, drugs and other challenges you’ll have later in life as a parent. Make it an enjoyable, yet open, discussion. Let your child ask questions and give her answers.”
Many parents worry that if they tell their son, he will inevitably share the revelation with younger siblings. Have an open discussion with your child and ask “how would you have felt if someone had told you this before now?” Try to make him see that it makes the season magical for younger children, and part of being a big kid is to look out for their younger siblings by perpetuating the enchantment.
End the conversation by saying that even if a real live Santa Claus does not exist, his spirit stands for so much more. Santa represents many things to many people: family, giving, love, etc. The idea of Santa doesn't need to disappear with the myth. After all, he is a symbol of giving and joy for the entire season.
How Other Parents Have Handled "Is Santa Real?"
Santa's Little Helper
Charlie Brown of Lancaster, PA, was busted when her daughter found gifts from Santa wrapped and tagged way before Christmas. She thought fast and told her she was helping Santa with storage because all of his facilities were full. "Sometimes Santa asks parents to be his special helpers," she told her.
Cool Like Santa
Andrea Salas of Vero Beach, FL, had a close call when her daughter realized Santa used the same wrapping paper as her mom. Fortunately, she thought it was cool that Mommy and Santa had the same taste.
Pipe Down, Kid!
Gale Perkins of Kansas City, MO, admits she outed Santa to her baby sister. The younger girl was so excited on Christmas Eve, she was keeping her big sister awake. So she told her the gifts were already in their mom's closet and to get to sleep. "She still hasn't forgiven me 40 years later."
Now That's Good Advice!
Heather Johnson from McCanna, ND, says her youngest also found out from a sibling, who learned the truth at school. However, the truth was accompanied by some sound advice. "You'll get more presents if you act like you still believe!"
How Does This Game Work?
Michelle Smith of San Francisco decided to ease her daughter's anxiety about Santa breaking into their house while she slept by telling her the truth. She explained it was a game of pretend lots of families played, and gave her daughter the choice of playing or not -- she was in.
I Don't Believe It -- I Do Believe!
Heather Leonard of Savage, Minnesota, got some help from a mall Santa when her son was doubting. Her son told the Santa he didn't believe. "Kids who don't believe in me only get Spongebob Squarepants underwear in their stockings," said Santa. Heather made sure that was the only item in his stocking that year.
If you're a child care provider looking after a wee one who seems to be questioning Santa’s existence, don’t be afraid to bring the subject up to their parents. (Just make sure the child is not in the room when you have the conversation, of course!) This way, you will be able to avoid conflicting stories altogether.
“If you avoid the questions, your child can be put off,” Thorne says. “As the parent, your child looks to you to structure her life, to have it make sense.”
As with all parenting conundrums, do what works best for your child and follow your instincts.
Want to see how other parents dealt with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Read Parents Share How They Handle the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny Question next!
Originally written by Alaina Sullivan. Updated by Alexa Gahan and Amanda McNamara on 27 June 2017.