A few years ago I wrote a blog post that got a bit of attention about WHY to tell kids the truth about Santa. Since then, every year around this time, people continue to find that post on the internet.
How we deal with Santa in our family goes against popular opinion but, if you celebrate Christmas, I think it’s important to thoughtfully consider what we tell kids about Santa.
I argue against telling kids that they will get gifts only if they are “good” because…
- Rewards and gifts (threats and bribes) don’t actually improve behavior or motivation or help kids learn.
- The message of “you’d better not pout or cry” is bad parenting advice because it discourages kids from expressing their feelings.
- Lying to children about Santa risks breaking down trust and your relationship with your child (and could even be scary).
- The story of Santa may mislead your child to think that kids of other faith traditions don’t get gifts because they are not “good kids”, rather than understanding that other kids didn’t get gifts because they don’t celebrate Christmas.
- Kids may also think that another child who got fewer gifts was “less good” rather than understanding that some families have fewer resources than others.
What isn’t in the original post is exactly HOW to talk about Santa.
What do you actually say to your kids?
How exactly do you keep the magic in Christmas?
How do you prevent your child from “spoiling Santa” for other kids?
Here are 3 mini-scripts for what to say to kids about Santa, keep the magic, and not spoil it for others. Please adapt them to fit your child’s age, their level of understanding, and your family values.
How to tell the truth about Santa
Explain that Santa is a symbol
Say something like this, “The Santa that you see in books, movies, and in stores is a person in a costume. People dress up in Santa costumes to remind us…
- …of someone who lived a long, long time ago called St. Nicholas who secretly gave money to people who needed it.”
- …to be kind and generous to other people in our family or even outside our family, especially people who have less than we do.”
Keep the magic
You and your kids can still play the “Santa game” if you want. Say, “Even though Santa is not a real person we can still pretend that he is because it’s fun to use our imaginations and believe in magic.” Ask your kids:
- Do you want to write Santa a letter and tell him what you want for Christmas?
- Do you want to set out milk and cookies for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph on Christmas Eve?
- Do you want to sit in Santa’s lap and tell him what you want for Christmas?
Don’t spoil it for others
Some parents worry that their child will tell other kids that “Santa is not real” and they will have to endure the wrath of other parents. Explain it to your kids this way.
- Say, “Some kids and adults might think differently about Santa because they want to play the ‘Santa game’. It’s ok for people to think differently about different things. You can join in the game if you want to–it’s fun to use your imagination and pretend–or you can stay out of it. You don’t need to tell other people that ‘Santa isn’t real’ because everyone likes to pretend sometimes, just like when you play with your [dolls, action figures, video games, watch movies], and you pretend that they are real.”
- If your child is arguing with another child about whether Santa is real, say “You think that Santa is real and you think Santa is not real. That’s interesting! Two people believe two different things.”
We hope that these mini scripts are useful for you to use and adapt to your family. For more information about WHY to tell kids the truth about Santa and what we did in our family check out this blog post.
What are your thoughts? How does this approach fit with your family values? Do you think it spoils the magic of Christmas when we tell the truth about Santa?