by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman
You might get the question when your child is 4 years old or when he is five. She might wait to ask it until she is seven. Regardless of when it comes, will you be ready for, "Mommy, is there really a Santa?"
What are you going to say when you hear the Santa question? Will you stumble over your words? Will you tell a half-truth or perhaps lie? Will you be tempted to avoid answering the question in an attempt to preserve the mystery and your personal enjoyment for one more year?
Whether you are ready or not, the question is coming. How you answer it can help your child make a smooth transition into accepting the answer they are seeking. Use the suggestions below to guide you in your preparation.
Before answering your child's Santa question directly, ask clarifying questions. Determine their present frame of reference and how much peers or siblings have already told them. The fact that they have asked this question indicates that they have been thinking about it and need further clarification. Ask your child what they have been thinking, who has given them information and what they feel about what they already know. From the answers you get to these questions, you will glean what information needs to be clarified and where you need to begin.
Once you have information on what your child already knows, ask, "Do you really want to know?" Some children don't want the answer. For them, it is enough to simply talk about what they know now. Their goal is to verify what they presently know. They may return at a later date to learn more. Some children take away what they now know and do not return They hold on to the mystery of Santa in their own way and preserve it into adulthood.
Most children, however, want to know. If they want verification and explanation, their answer to "Do you really want to know?" will be, "Yes." Their "yes" is often accompanied by a sad look on their face.
When children want to know about Santa, tell them the truth. Having already followed the two previous suggestions, this is no place to attempt to preserve the mystery. Be open, honest, and gentle with your words. Remember, you are uncovering a lie that a large percentage of the entire family (not to mention a large percentage of the population) helped you keep.
As you begin your explanation of why Santa was created, focus on the importance of giving. Move the attention from Santa and concentrate your discussion on the attitude of giving from the heart. Here is where you can talk about your family's religious views. Explain the "reason for the season" from your family's moral, ethical and religious point of view.
Acknowledge your child's emotional reaction. She may be angry, hurt, or sad that her parents have been lying to her for years. She may be disappointed that there is no Santa. Don't make your child wrong for having these feelings. Console and comfort her. Communicate empathy by saying, "I can see you feel sad about this," or "This is really a big disappointment for you, isn't it?" Allow your child to grieve the loss of a fantasy and a loss of part of her childhood. Inviting your child to write in a journal or draw a picture to communicate her thoughts and feelings is useful here.
Mark this time in your child's life. Treat this moment as a benchmark, a milestone, a developmental transition. Help your child recognize this moment as an indication that he is growing up. Help him transition out of the sadness of the loss of childhood and into the next stages of his development, that of being someone "in the know" about Santa.
The final suggestion encourages you to invite your child to play a bigger role in the joy and the spirit of giving. Find a way for each child in your family to contribute to the spirit of giving, so the focus stays on giving rather than on receiving. Ask your child to respect other children and allow them the opportunity to discover the answer to the Santa question on their own. Refrain from asking your child to join you in preserving the lie. Instead, ask her to join with what your family has established as the "reason for the season."