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The Santa Claus Dilemma: When and How to Tell Your Child That Santa Isn’t Real

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If you’re searching for the exact when and how behind the task of breaking the news about Santa to your child, you might be approaching it from the wrong angle. Here's a perspective change to make that hard conversation easier.


Most of us remember that fateful day—the day we got confirmation that Santa Claus is, in fact, not real.

Maybe you already had a sneaking suspicion…

Why does my toy from the North Pole say “Made in China?”
Why is there a different Santa in every shopping mall?

Can you relate to this video?

It might have been a heartbreaking moment, or perhaps your parent broke the news in the perfect way. Either way, for most children, learning the truth about Santa is a coming of age step. But when is the right time to drop the news? Parents often begin to stress about the task when a child first shows signs of doubt. Some parents scramble for explanations to keep the secret alive as long as they can, while others opt to tell their child immediately.

If you’re searching for the exact when and how behind the task of breaking the news about Santa to your child, you might be approaching it from the wrong angle. The truth is, the when and how depends entirely on your child’s imagination, cognitive development and maturity, and emotional development and maturity. What is right for one child will not be right for another.

However and whenever you decide to break the news, there are a few important factors to consider beforehand that might make it go more smoothly.

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Who is Santa?

This is important to establish with your children from the beginning. Santa is not a policeman who spies on them all year, deciding who gets toys and who doesn’t based on their behavior. In fact, the true story about Santa is actually a story of God’s unconditional love.

The tale paints St. Nicholas as a servant of God who, through his selfless act of showing love to the three sisters, is actually a reflection of God’s selfless love to all mankind.

In the original story of St. Nicholas, Nicholas was a Christian who gave money to three sisters whose father didn’t have enough money for a dowry for them to each be married. In the story, he snuck the money for their dowry into their stockings while they were sleeping. But one night, their father caught St. Nicholas who begged the father to keep his secret so that he could provide a dowry for the daughters. The tale paints St. Nicholas as a servant of God who, through his selfless act of showing love to the three sisters, is actually a reflection of God’s selfless love to all mankind.

Whether or not you decide to share this tale with your children, it is important to understand that the spirit of Santa is one of selfless love, not of judgment and punishment. Don’t use Santa’s judgment as a threat to hold over your children all year just because they’re young enough to believe you—this will only create resentment later when they find out the truth.

When is the right time?

“When children start putting together in their minds that Santa Claus may not be real, they’ll ask questions—and that’s an opening for parents to get them talking about what’s logical or not to them,” says Helen Egger, Ph.D., a Child Psychologist at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Duke University.

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Take careful note of the questions your child is posing around the Santa topic. Can you see them begin to rationally analyze the probability and potential reality of Santa, his elves and the North Pole? If they are showing the cognitive maturity to rationally discuss the topic with you, it might be time to follow their lead and engage in the conversation truthfully. However, if your child is still blissfully trusting in Santa without a shade of doubt, it might not be time yet.

Santa Claus

Image courtesy of Shutterstock, Inc., Used By Permission.

Why did you ‘lie’ about Santa?

No matter how you tell your child, it’s important to communicate that you did not lie for the sake of deceiving them for your own benefit or a pointless prank. Instead, explain that Santa is a way of teaching us all to believe in things we cannot see or touch—that the story and tradition of Santa are bigger than just one person, and the joy and delight he brings to children is a tale as old as time. 

Who is Santa now?

One way of moving forward after breaking the news is to involve your children in the story and tradition. Santa is a teacher, and now your child is on his team, just like you are. Santa is showing love, imagination, hope and happiness to others through a story. Talk to your children about the future. Discuss how your child might respond and become involved with a younger sibling or friend who still believes in Santa.

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No matter how you tell your child and whether or not you even subscribe to the Santa tale at all, the joy and magic of Christmas can be shared with your children in countless ways. But if you do choose to introduce your child to Santa, be intentional and thoughtful—make him a reflection of the season: joyful, loving, selfless and good.