#AskMegan Should I tell my child the truth about Santa Claus?

Veronique asks: “How old is too old to still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus ? Should these secrets be revealed ? I feel bad about lying to her but I also think it’s cute ! What’s your opinion on that ?”

#AskMegan Should I tell my child the truth about Santa Claus? ~ behavioral CHILD

Should you let your child believe in Santa Claus?

With most kids already excited about the end-of-year gift extravaganza, this question is on a lot of parents’ minds, so thank you for asking it, Veronique. I too think it’s cute when children believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny – it’s part of the charm and innocence of childhood.

But my personal opinion aside, here’s my professional take on it:

Lying about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy

Whether to uphold the convention and go along with everyone else or be upfront with a child about the Santa Claus and Tooth Fairy myths is a judgement call on the part of the parent. Many parents believe that lying to their child, even on innocuous topics such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, is not acceptable. The majority of parents, though, uphold the age-old tradition of carefully putting bite marks on cookies on Christmas Eve and tucking money or a treat for every lost tooth under their child’s pillow.

Deciding which way to go is entirely up to you and what you feel comfortable with. There are no right or wrong answers. Telling or not telling your child the truth about Santa Claus will not make you a bad parent.

Telling the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy

If you’re a parent who has played the Santa Claus game, the issue of coming clean becomes a little more complicated. First off, the answer to when to tell the truth is: that depends on you, your child, and also on your child’s peers. If you feel that you are ready to tell her the truth, then you should. If you’re not sure, keep in mind that when children are in 2nd or 3rd grade and are being exposed to the concept of fictional versus non-fictional characters, it becomes harder to keep up the charade. With children’s ample access to electronics and the internet nowadays, it would be naive to think that they wouldn’t stumble on the truth by themselves. I would suggest taking your cue from your child, to assess whether she is ready to hear the truth. Some children get to that stage earlier than others, so there is no hard-and-fast rule about the right age to tell them the truth about Santa Claus.

When you decide that the time has come, there are a few things that I would like you to consider for “the talk” that you will be having with her:

  • Be the one telling her the truth about Santa: It reinforces your credibility and the trust that she already has in you. This is why assessing whether her peers are also kept in the dark comes in handy; if most of them know, and there’s a chance that someone will let it slip, your child will be caught off-guard. When you feel that your child is starting to guess the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, have the talk before she comes to the conclusion herself. You want her to keep believing and trusting you, so your being the one telling her that you essentially lied will help offset the lie.
  • Kill Santa but keep Christmas alive: Tell her that even though Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny are not real, the idea behind them is real – showing affection by way of gift-giving, celebrating milestones like losing a tooth, or keeping religious traditions are very real, despite the fact that the characters representing them (Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, etc.) are not. This will ensure that the joy of Christmas or the celebration is not taken away from her, completely. In other words, it will soften the blow for her to know that even though Santa Claus is not real, she will still be getting her presents this Christmas and the same treats for the next lost tooth.
  • Rip out the band-aid in one fell swoop: You cannot just tell her about Santa, you’ll also have to come clean about everything else. You don’t want your child to extrapolate on what you’ve just told her and be suspicious of you for not telling her the entire truth. If Santa goes, so do everyone else. I’m afraid there’s no other way of doing this; kids are smart, they know how to put two and two together.
  • Have the talk about lying, too: This is a good opportunity to explain to her the difference between lying (not acceptable) and keeping a secret for a surprise (temporarily withholding of the truth). Reassure her that this was a very unusual circumstance and that you have been lying to her only for her own carefree enjoyment and that it is not indicative of everything else that you tell her.
  • Have the talk about safety, too: Since the jig is up, make sure to go over the concept that having strange people creeping into your house at night, through the chimney or in their bedroom, is of course fictitious and would never have been acceptable to you.
  • Ask her to respect the innocence of her friends: She may have friends who don’t know the truth yet about Santa Claus, so tell her that you would prefer that they hear it from their parents, just as she heard about it from you.

What do you think? How would you handle revealing those secrets to your child?

 

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8 comments
English Miller
English Miller

Thanks for doing this post! I enjoyed hearing about how parent's can tell their children and the things to think about when doing so. We decided to tell our children that it the characters are pretend when they asked questions even from the beginning but for fun we do all of the pretending with them...leave out cookies, make lists, leave teeth under pillows. They know it's just us but it's so fun to pretend.

Megan
Megan

Awww, the capacity to find joy in the littlest things of little children never ceases to amaze me. When Emily was little, she saw two completely different-looking Santas at two different malls and asked us which one was real; we told her that neither was, they were just Santa's representatives while the real Santa was in the North Pole getting the toys ready. She bought it... for a few more years, at least. Thank you for your visit, English :)

Arthur Caudill
Arthur Caudill

The Spirit of Saint Nicholas is still alive and it is all around those of us who wish to have a giving spirit for those who are less fortunate. When my daughter gets older, I will explain to her that she can help keep the spirit of St. Nick alive herself by helping others who are less fortunate and giving to people who are in need. She wants Santa to bring her a doll this year. I told her that we would leave some cookies and hot chocolate for him.

Megan
Megan

That's brilliant, Arthur. Love that you are teaching her compassion at a young age. How old is your daughter?

Véro
Véro

Thank you for so much for your insights. I tried the talk during dinner but the verdict is "definitely not ready" :(

Megan
Megan

You're very welcome. If she's not ready, she's not ready. No hurry :)

Sofia
Sofia

My oldest is 4 and my youngest is almost 3, so we still have a long ways to go with Santa and the Easter Bunny! My boys don't even know who the Tooth Fairy is, and I think I will keep it that way. My dad told me the truth about Santa when I was in 4th grade (back in the days where there was no internet). I honestly don't know when we will tell our boys, they are 18 months apart, should I wait and tell them at the same time? or separately? I guess we'll see with time. Anywho, thanks for the tips!

Megan
Megan

Because your two sons are so close in age, it will probably be hard to tell one and not tell the other. I would do it at the same time Sofia, why risk having one of them come crying to you because his brother told him Santa is not real? But looks like that's quite a bit of ways away for you. And you're right, if you don't practice the myth (and do the money under the pillow or the half eaten cookies for Santa) there won't be anything to undo. The thing that I like about the Tooth Fairy is that the trauma of losing a tooth is deflected by this nice unexpected surprise... which I suspect is the main impetus behind the myth of the Tooth Fairy. Again, depends on each child; mine cried bitter tears over the first tooth, she felt very self-conscious -- talking to her about it wasn't enough, I had to do something.

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