Around this time every year, children all over the world look forward to the gifts Santa Claus will bring. There are trips to visit Santa’s workshop, pictures to take with him at the mall, letters to send, and cookies and milk to put out the night before. You can even track Santa’s journey with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) or Google on December 24th through their respective Santa Trackers. It’s part of the warm Christmas magic that keeps the spirit alive for both children and adults.
However, at a certain age, all kids start wondering about the existence of Santa, and they may come to you with the dreaded question: “Is Santa real?”
You may feel unprepared to answer, especially if your child is still young enough to believe. As you mentally prepare yourself to respond to their inevitable inquiries, consider a few factors before deciding what to say.
1. Your child’s age. There is no specific age to transition a child from believing in Santa. In a survey conducted with over 4,500 Americans, it was discovered that the average age children stop believing in Santa is 8.4 years old. However, the ages vary by state.
Between ages 3-6, believing in Santa and the North Pole can encourage a child’s imaginary world. Older kids will most likely stop believing in it on their own, especially if their peers don’t believe in Santa anymore. Most children will stop believing in the story and reconcile it with reality when they feel ready.
2. Why they might be asking. Are they curious about the real legend behind Santa? Do they seem to want confirmation of their doubts about his existence? Or are they wanting to be reassured that it’s okay to believe in Santa a little longer? Some children may want the honest truth, while others may want to stay in the fantasy.
The way that your child asks can be a subtle indication of where they are. If they ask with some hesitation, they may want reassurance to keep believing. However, if an older child tells you Santa is not real, they may be ready to hear the truth.
3. Their reactions. Not all children will react to the news in the same way, even in the same household. Some will be in denial. Others will become angry that you “lied” to them. Some kids may break down thinking no Santa means no Christmas. Still, others might even feel relief knowing that their doubts are confirmed. It’s important to respond to your child with empathy, so they feel supported and know that they can still trust you no matter what.
4. What the story means to you. Why do we continue the legend of Santa Claus? What does he represent or symbolize to you and your family? When you get to the heart of why this traditional story is so loved, you can soften the blow by talking to your child about the goodness Santa Claus stands for. Though Santa may not be real, the joy of gift-giving and spreading good cheer is.
5. Your willingness to part with the story. Often, parents may not be ready to accept that their children are getting older. Giving up Santa Claus can feel like giving up a part of the childhood magic. When you start to see your child questioning the existence of Santa, it’s time to start preparing yourself for the inevitable conversation. You can use this as an opportunity to transition your child from believing in Santa to becoming a giving and helpful person just like the legend.
No matter what you say, make sure you help your child transition with empathy. Though you can’t control their reactions, you can support them through whatever they feel so that their memory of believing in Santa can be a fond one.
However, just because Santa is no longer a reality for your child, you can still celebrate the holiday by taking them out to spread cheer to your family, friends, and the community as a family. If you have younger children in the house, your older kids can act as your little helper to reinforce the story of Santa.
Together you can create new holiday traditions that will keep the spirit of Christmas (and Santa!) alive for years to come.
Emily currently lives in Orange County, California after spending four years in Illinois and half a year teaching in Florence, Italy. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Knox College and an M.A. in Counseling from the University of San Diego and has taught English to native speakers and ESL students for over three years. When she’s not working as a School Counselor or writing, she enjoys traveling the world, playing instruments, and blogging about Millennial experiences at Long Live the Twenties.