Even if the story of Santa Claus is alive and well in your household, there will come a day when your kids find out the truth about Kris Kringle. So what’s the best way to handle it? We asked Melissa Kester, director and founder of the Madison Marriage and Family Therapy P.C. in New York City. Here’s her advice:
Just let it happen. You don’t necessarily have to be the one to break the news about Santa to your child. Sometimes, “children come to this place by themselves or because of their peers, and it’s an organic process,” says Kester. Your child may find out the truth about Santa at school or from friends, and that’s okay. But it’s up to you to handle the issue with sensitivity and love.
Be honest. If your child wants to have a conversation about the reality of Santa Claus, tell them the truth. “When our children come to us we should never lie,” warns Kester. “Eventually, the child will learn.” Don’t tell your son, for example, that his classmates are liars and that you’re the one telling the truth. But choose your words carefully and lovingly. Explain that there is meaning behind the story of Santa Claus. “Fairy tales are important,” Kester suggests saying to your child. “Fairy tales are lessons, just like Santa Claus is a lesson, and he should be alive in our spirit.” It’s also a great time to familiarize yourself with the story of Saint Nicholas; that way, you can turn the big reveal into a fun history lesson.
Know your child. If you know your son is sensitive, don’t be brusque when talking about Santa. “We should find a way to tell the truth in a way that we know as their parents they will be receptive,” explains Kester. And, just as important, “know what your child will understand.” If your daughter learns at a young age that Santa doesn’t exist, don’t confuse her with a long-winded, convoluted explanation. And if met with tears or anger, stay calm. “I understand that you’re upset,” is a good way to contend with any strong emotions that come up. Kester suggests simply saying, “I’m sorry this caused you pain.”
Say goodbye to Santa together. Sometimes, it’s the child who is attached to the idea of Santa Claus, but just as often, it’s the parents. “When we don’t like the idea of our children growing up, it can be really hard for us,” says Kester, who is also a mom. It can help to embrace that the spirit of Christmas still exists without Santa. “It’s still magical,” says Kester. “Because of love, because of giving.” And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?