Feature Archive

When Santa Stops Being Real

When your child starts guessing the truth about St. Nick.

WebMD Feature Every holiday season for the last three years, my nine-year-old son Justin has asked me straight out if there is a Santa Claus. Every time I say no. But every year he still wants to sit on Santa's lap -- the "real" Santa, that is, the one at the mall with the best decorations, not those impostors at the other malls. And he delights at finding a few of Rudolph's stray sleigh bells in the fireplace on Christmas morning.

Even if you haven't actively cultivated your children's acceptance of the Santa Claus myth, chances are good -- thanks to the magic of Christmas TV specials and slick holiday advertising -- that they believe in the man who knows if they've been naughty or nice.

So what happens when a child's logic -- or perhaps a friend -- reveals a few inconsistencies in the jolly old man's story? How do you know when it's time to let your children in on the big secret?

"There's really no one right time to tell kids that there's no Santa Claus," says Glen Elliott, Ph.D. Elliott is an associate professor and the Director of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. "The important thing is to take your cues from the child, and not try to prolong the fantasy for your own enjoyment when they may be ready to give it up."

Follow Your Child's Lead

Like Elliott, many experts agree that parents should wait for their children to give them signs that they're ready to give up believing in St. Nick. "When children start putting together in their minds that Santa Claus may not be real, they'll ask questions -- and that's an opening for parents to get them talking about what's logical or not to them," says Helen Egger, Ph.D., a Child Psychologist at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Duke University.