This time of year usually seems to spark a debate about whether or not telling children about Santa Claus means parents are lying to them. Scroll through any social media platform and one can easily find some hot debates on if it is a good or bad thing to encourage Santa. And I can see the concern with both sides. Does celebrating Santa mean I am unintentionally lying to them? Will encouraging Santa mean I will harm our relationship in the future? Will my child lose trust in me forever the day they learn the truth about Santa? Is it okay to lie at all to my kids? From a child therapist perspective, I want to add some insight into this hot topic and hopefully calm those valid concerns.
First off, you will not cause irreparable harm to your child by telling about Santa and Christmas magic. But, there are a few ways in which we can continue the magic of the Christmas season and Santa while also preserving our relationship with our kids.
Don’t Use the Whole “Naughty” or “Nice,” “Good” or “Bad”
The classic song lyric, “you better watch out, you better not cry” may be a message about Santa I would encourage parents to let go of. The reason being is that when we connect our kid’s behavior to getting presents or the fun of Christmas, it places a lot of pressure for small kids to live up to. In fact, that pressure typically tends to backfire and lead to even MORE unwanted behaviors. The “naughty or nice” message can also mean that when our kids make mistakes then there’s a possibility that it can impact their self-esteem and self-worth. We don’t want our kids to think, “when I make a mistake that means I am bad”. We especially don’t want them to connect their self-worth to times of big feelings or mistakes. Instead, we want them to know that they will always be good kids even when they make mistakes because we will accept them no matter what they do or what they feel.
Frame Santa as a Magical Being, or Make Believe.
Okay, I hear the lying point. I get that idea of finding out as an older child that your parents told you all about this person who did all these wonderful things and it turned out that person wasn’t real. However, we do not need to lie to our kids to have Santa. Instead, what I would encourage for Santa is to frame him as a magical or make-believe person who brings Christmas cheer. Talk about Santa as you would about a TV character or a superhero. Refer to him as a magical being who brings the spirit of Christmas each year. Explain that Santa represents the “spirit of Christmas” by helping, giving and being kind to others. All qualities that we want our own children to one day practice.
Read Stories About Santa Together
Let’s not forget that the origin of Santa came from stories that have been passed down for generations. Reading stories about Santa together encourages that idea of talking about Santa as a fictional character. Discuss what Santa or the other characters did in the story that encourages the Christmas spirit of giving or helping others. Reading together also encourages an opportunity to connect and spend quality time with our children, which is what they will remember the most during the holidays.
Lastly, I want to add that you should always do what feels best for your family. Whether that is skipping Santa or keeping Santa. You know your family best. Talk about Santa in a way that best incorporates your family’s culture. I encourage you to celebrate Christmas in the way that helps everyone in your family enjoy the holidays.