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How to Answer ‘Is Santa Real?’

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Dear Mama Drama:

Do you have suggestions for the “Is Santa real” question?  My eight-year-old asked me very directly if we did the presents and I feel like I need a better response than just running out of the room (which is what I did).  He later asked my husband the same question.

I feel like we have to tell him.  Yet, he seems to still want to believe, as he still talks about writing a note for Santa and leaving cookies out.

The other wrinkle is that his older sister, whose role model may be Peter Pan, still believes in Santa.  If we tell him, we have to tell her.

~Panicked Mama

p.s.  The cute story:  he recently said, “I believe in Santa because good parents would NEVER get their children that many presents.”

(photo credit)

Dear Panicked:

The Santa question is a tricky one. We want our children to believe in Santa, but we don’t want to lie. It’s especially difficult when our children ask us so directly, as your son did.

A great way to handle difficult questions like this one is to give the question back and ask what your child thinks. This gives him a chance to share his thinking and lets you know where he is. I have found that children usually convince themselves of what they want to believe. They usually have a strong (and often humorous – as you noted) opinion about why they think he is real.

If and when your son tells you he thinks you are Santa or that he no longer believes Santa is real, you don’t have to confirm or deny. Continue to explore his reasoning and let him know he can choose what he believes. By not confirming or denying you also allow your daughter to continue to believe regardless of what her brother has decided. It may be important to discuss that different people have different beliefs and it’s okay if they don’t believe the same thing. Letting children follow their own thinking and make decisions about their beliefs is an important step toward autonomy.

The strategy of asking what your child thinks works for all sorts of tough questions that make us want to run out of the room, so keep that trick in your back pocket.

Please share your thoughts on this challenging question.

P.S. After I wrote this column a friend suggested I read a column by Margery Fridstein. She offers the same suggestions with some compelling arguments about why our children need to continue to believe in Santa Claus. Read her perspective here.

“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Lisa Vratny-Smith

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Comments
  • comment avatar Katherine December 17, 2010

    One of my family’s traditions has been to read the editorial “Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” every year at Christmas time. It gives great perspective to belief in Santa Claus. When I was little I just thought it was one of my dad’s silly nostalgic moments, but now as an adult I have passed it along to friends and even memorized and recited it for a speech class in high school.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith December 17, 2010

    I love this tradition, Katherine. It really is all about the spirit of Christmas anyway.
    Thank you for sharing this.

  • comment avatar JoAnn December 17, 2010

    I figured out really, really early that Santa wasn’t “real”…from a TV commercial, of all things! (I’ll never forget it! It was a Tylenol commercial where a mom puts a little present in a stocking that is hanging on her daughter’s bed!)

    When I asked my mom, she asked me why I wanted to know. I told her what I’d seen. She said that Santa was a tradition based on a real man (St. Nicholas), and that now, he was a “feeling that lives in your heart.” I was the oldest of four kids, and she also told me it was my job to be sure that the magic of that feeling was kept alive for my younger siblings. She also told me that since I “was in on this secret,” *I* could play the part of Santa, too! And get secret gifts for others!

    (She also threatened me saying that if she found out I’d told my siblings, I REALLY wouldn’t get anything from Santa! That was just AWFUL. I mean, we knew we may be able to fool Santa, but there was NO FOOLING my mom! Ha!)

    I’m glad she was honest with me when I questioned her. I plan to do the same when my daughter asks me.

  • comment avatar JoAnn December 17, 2010

    I should add that “knowing” didn’t make the feeling of seeing what was in everyone’s stockings in the morning any less special or exciting for me! I know every kid is different, but that’s just my perspective. 🙂

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith December 17, 2010

    Thanks for that perspective, JoAnn. I love your mom’s beautiful and gentle explanation. What a good example of following the individual needs and beliefs of our families and children.
    I’ve known some other families where the older siblings did just as you did and had lots of fun playing Santa to their younger siblings.
    Your mom cracks me up ~ as I read that warning I had the image of “You can’t fool Mother Nature!,” from those old butter commercials. 🙂
    It’s a good reminder that moms have a lot of power which is important to remember as we contemplate how we’ll handle these tricky situations with our kids.
    Thanks so much!

  • comment avatar Melissa December 18, 2010

    I am 27 and a mommy to two amazing girls and my belife that I hold true to this day santa is real when you stop believing in him is when he stops believing in you short and sweet merry christmas mamas