Answering the Santa Question: What to Tell the Kids?
My six year old is onto Santa. She has been for years. Three years ago she asked how Santa got into houses without chimneys. Easy: "Magic." Two years ago she wanted to know why we donate toys when Santa's elves can just make them in their workshop. That was a little more challenging. We told her that people in need ask Santa for warm coats and food so we're just helping out so they can have a toy, too.
Then, last year she noticed that Santa's gifts look just like the ones in the stores. "I think," she said, "that mommy and daddy buy the gifts and say they are from Santa." I pointed out that if Santa doesn't exist, he can't bring presents. I am guessing this is the year she figures out she is pretty much guaranteed Santa presents as long as her little brothers still believe.
We share Santa because, for us, Santa is a manifestation of the joy, hope, and compassion of the season. Dr. Mark McKee, author of "Raising A Successful Child: The Manual", also sees a positive role for Santa: "Santa Claus allows for the temporary belief in a benign figure who is kind, generous and forgiving. Despite all the trouble a child may feel they have caused over the course of a year, they are thrilled to discover that they are forgiven and have gifts under the tree to prove their goodness."
But by perpetuating the stories about Santa actually coming into our house to deliver presents, are we lying to our children? How should we handle questions and expressions of doubt? And if you do not include Santa in your celebrations or your child discovers that Santa is more of an ideal based on a Saint than a jolly, chimney-scaling elf, how do you make sure they respect others' beliefs?
"The Santa question comes down to balancing, on the one side, participating in the fun of a cultural myth and on the other, honesty," explains Erica Curtis, a family therapist, "The myth of Santa is cultural; it is something that is shared and passed down. It invokes tradition. It is fun. Yet, it does contradict the family value of honesty." When you tell your child something important, Curtis points out; you want him to believe you.
To encourage the enjoyment of Santa without destroying your credibility, Curtis recommends responding to questions with questions. If a child asks how Santa delivers so many presents in one night, ask him how he thinks it is done.
As a parent, how will I know when my child is just being curious and when he wants the straight truth? McKee suggests that "The initial questions a child has represent the child's ambivalence about wanting and not wanting the truth. Most children," he asserts, "will at some point announce their clarity of the fact that Santa is a myth."
At that point, McKee says, "parents simply need to acknowledge the truth in such a way that the child feels admired for growing up."
Once your child has peered behind the curtain, the next challenge is to make sure he does not spoil the fun for those who wish to believe.
According to Meg Akabas, founder of Parenting Solutions and author of "52 Weeks of Parenting Wisdom: Effective Strategies for Raising Happy, Responsible Kids", parents should explain that "families have different beliefs and traditions and that you hope that others will not speak badly about or ruin the fun of what your family does. Stress that your family should, in turn, respect others." She adds, "You can tell your child that part of the fun of the Christmas holiday for other families is this 'pretend game' that Santa Claus comes; since many children believe the story until they get older, we shouldn't ruin that fun for them." Akabas suggests role playing so your child is ready with sensitive answers that balance his need to be honest with others' needs to believe.
Is Santa part of the joy of the holiday season for your family? Are your kids believers? How do you answer "The Santa Question"?