“Is Santa Real?” Talking to Your Kids About Santa and Other Fantasies

Is Santa real? A teen girl helps her younger brother write a letter to Santa
Encourage older kids to support younger siblings who still believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and other fantasies.

Every year in America, especially around the holidays, many children start wondering if Santa really exists. Little ones in Mexico awaiting gifts from the Three Kings, or in Austria, where naughty kids hide from Krampus, are asking similar questions.

When the time comes to answer “is Santa real?” or to tell your child the Easter Bunny doesn’t leave baskets full of chocolate eggs or the Tooth Fairy can’t miraculously replace lost teeth, what’s a parent or guardian to say?

You’ve committed all this time and energy to building up these grand stories. How do you tell your kids the truth?

Is Santa Real – as a Discipline Tool?

We asked Roger C. Burket, MD, director of Child and Family Psychiatry at UVA, how to talk to your kids about Santa and other make-believe stories.

“First, it’s important to note that every child and each situation is different,” says Burket.

Burket doesn’t support using the idea of Santa to discipline, such as telling a child who misbehaves that Santa won’t be bringing any presents. But he does feel there’s benefit in encouraging younger children to believe Santa is real or in other similar fantasies.

“It introduces them to the concept that the world is a giving and loving place. It provides children with a secure feeling – that the world is good to little kids,” Burket says. “It increases their well-being.”

When Do Kids Stop Believing in Santa?

Burket said the questioning usually occurs between the ages of 5 and 7, when children begin to “reality test” concepts. As a child’s reasoning skills begin to develop, the stories simply become harder and harder to believe. They start hearing their peers question the validity of flying reindeer or bunnies delivering baskets.

“The child tells you when they’re ready to know,” says Burket. “They ask questions that make you think they’ve figured it out.”

In all his years of practice, Burket has never experienced a child not trusting or faulting their parents for letting them believe in these stories.

According to Burket, it’s crucial to connect the spirit of joy, giving and love to the newly exposed story, so that becomes a part of the child’s thinking. This is especially important when explaining the truth to older siblings and asking them to keep the secret for their younger siblings.

“Bring the older child into preserving the story. Tell them they’re providing a great experience, just like they had,” he advises.

What If Your Older Child Still Believes in Santa?

Burket says many children like to hang onto the idea of Santa, even if they realize it’s not true. They simply like the fantasy, and of course, the gifts.

“I don’t think still believing in Santa is much of a problem, unless other mental health issues are present – for example, anxiety,” Burket says. Also, “as a kid matures, I haven’t seen this affect a child’s ability to determine what’s real and what’s not.”

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Burket’s main takeaway: Don’t be afraid to encourage the magic of the season or your kid’s imagination. But when your child is ready, and you have to handle “does Santa really exist?”, make sure you explain that the very real spirit of giving and love inspired the fantasy.

Do Your Kids Still Believe?

When your child asked about Santa or the Tooth Fairy, what did you say? Leave a comment below to tell us.

Comments (1)

  1. Gina Beck says:

    My daughter was probably 5 or 6 years old when she first asked. She was devastated. She saw Christmas wrapping paper from the prior year that I used on the Santa gifts on packages that I had wrapped and put under our tree that year. So since she was so upset, I figured that she was not quite ready to give up the idea of Santa. So I told her that Santa must have gotten wrapping paper from the same place that I did. Lol, she bought it. She believed for another year or so and the transition was easier the next time she asked. Lol, good thing I usually kept track of which paper was Santa and which was general wrapping paper! Who knew that she would remember!

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