If you take a stroll through our parenting blog posts, you’ll find that one practice that we emphasize practically more than anything else is honest, direct communication with your kids. Genuine communication is one of the key pillars in fostering a healthy relationship with your children, but there are certain common practices that seem to fly in the face of this, for example: Santa Claus.
If you’re being perfectly genuine and honest with your kid, you wouldn’t convince them that a magical man flies across the world in one night to deliver presents—nonetheless, this is one of the most beloved traditions that both parents and kids love. Of course, at some point, kids outgrow this fantasy, but the magic seems to always remain. Let’s take a look at why and when children tend to outgrow this fantasy, and whether or not this innocent lie can be risky.
Interestingly enough, studies have shown that there’s a difference between the age that children actually stop believing in Santa and the age their parents believe they’ve stopped believing. Children, on average, believe in Santa Claus up until age 8, and parents often will think the illusion is still flawless up to a year or two later. What causes this gap?
Children stumble upon the truth for a variety of reasons, each one cleverer than the last. The simplest reasons come from what you’d expect: friends or family revealing the secret by accident or presents not being very well hidden. Beyond that, kids get clever. In some cases, kids will find or recognize receipts left lying around or even recognize the tags on the toys from nearby stores—you could try arguing that the elves have a Walmart in the North Pole, but you probably won’t get too far. In some cases, and these aren’t preventable by even the sneakiest of present buying, kids have acquired a deep enough understanding of time, distance, and basic physics to realize that there simply isn’t any way Santa can move that fast.
Once kids figure this out, though, why don’t they speak up? For a lot of kids, it’s just fun! Even long after we’ve found out the truth, even now, we love getting in the spirit and playing along. We’re happy, even if just for one night, to believe in a little magic and share the love. Just as you play along innocently, chances are your kid might also be playing along.
Is There a Risk?
As we mentioned, as fun and magical as the Santa charade is, it is also technically lying to your children over an extended period of time. This, of course, can run very real risks as far as parenting goes. Perhaps it happened to you, perhaps not, but picture that you’ve just found out the truth and decided to not speak up. Whether it’s just for one Christmas or for many years, you’ll see (or at least be aware of) your parents easily and happily keeping the truth from you. There’s a chance you might take this simply for what it is, a fun game, but there’s also a chance this could lead you to limit the amount of trust you put in your parents and in adults in general. This latter point, at least in argument, seems to show up quite a lot.
That being said, while we’d love our children to trust in us their entire lives, this isn’t necessarily completely bad. Some, like evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, argue that this little bit of skepticism is perfectly healthy. In general, scientists will tell you that it’s always healthy to be a little skeptical of everything, and if finding out the truth about Santa leads kids to not automatically assume everything an adult says is 100% true, maybe it’s a healthy part of growing up.