“Mommy, how can Santa be in so many places at the same time? And how is he going to deliver all those presents?” Yikes! If those questions don’t leave you tongue-tied, what about when you run into three guys in Santa suits at the mall or on the street? Or if your home doesn’t happen to have a chimney?
“Kids five and under are a bit gullible,” explains psychologist Nadia Gagnier. “Their world lies halfway between reality and make-believe. They have an even easier time believing in Santa Claus because they have concrete proof that he exists—they can see him, touch him, hear his voice, and even write to him.”
Does lying about Santa to humour your child feel wrong? According to Gagnier, there’s no need to feel guilty. “It’s a white lie that sparks children’s imagination, feeds their creativity, and makes them happy,” she says. “It’ll also give them wonderful memories to look back on when they’re older and make them want to recreate that same magic for their own children.”
“Miranda doesn’t like having doubts. She needs to believe—it’s important for her.”
Isabelle, mother of Miranda, 5
Moreover, some psychologists believe that playing make-believe and daydreaming about imaginary worlds can be therapeutic for children going through a difficult time, such as a parental separation. The moral of the story is, as long as your child believes or pretends to believe to make you happy, it’s okay to stand back and let the magic of Christmastime be.
What if my child is afraid of Santa?
With his deep voice, booming laugh, and long white beard, Santa Claus can be a frightening figure in the eyes of young children, especially those between the ages of two and four. The last thing you want to do is force your child to go up to him, much less sit on his lap, even if it’s just for a photo. It’s also important to recognize that your child’s fear is real and not to be taken lightly. Try stepping aside and letting your little one watch from a distance as other children go up to Santa. Once he sees that the man in the red suit isn’t so scary after all, he might be willing to try meeting him too.
Life after Santa Claus
According to Gagnier, a child’s first doubts tend to surface after hearing comments from other kids at daycare or overhearing something from an older sibling. She recommends letting the truth come out naturally, but also to be honest if your child starts asking questions. “If your little one asks if there really is a Santa Claus, consider turning the question around by saying, ‘What do think?’ Your child will arrive at the truth on his own while exercising his reasoning skills at the same time.” Gagnier also notes that the age at which children stop believing in Santa depends a great deal on their personality and environment.
“I hope there isn’t a big snowstorm, because that will make it really hard to deliver presents. It might also be too cold for Santa, and for the reindeer!”
When it comes to life after Santa, don’t stress about it. Once your child gets over his disappointment, he will understand that you were simply protecting him out of love. “With or without the man in the red suit, the important thing is to remember that the holiday season is the perfect time to enjoy each other’s company,” says Gagnier.
For children, it’s not so much the presents that matter but the magic of this time of year—the joy of celebrating and being with family. “Santa isn’t about ‘I want this doll and he’s going to get it for me,’” says French psychoanalyst Claude Halmos. “He’s special because he represents kindness and caring for others.”
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, December 2013
Research and copywriting: Marie-Josée Cardinal
Scientific review: Diane Dubeau, professor of psychoeducation and psychology, UQO