You may celebrate holidays with your children by sharing stories about pretend holiday mascots like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Learn how to tell when it’s time to tell your child the truth about Santa and tips for delivering the truth gently.
Understanding children’s belief
Between the ages of one and three, your child develops an ability to distinguish between things that are real and imaginary. If children believe something is real when it isn’t, like holiday mascots, their belief is usually rooted in cultural practices. Telling the truth about the Tooth Fairy and other mascots may be difficult.
Children tend to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy because they perceive that the figures interact in their lives. Studies show that there are three factors that influence a child’s belief in something.
Testimony. Parents tell children stories about each holiday mascot. Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. The Tooth Fairy flies in while you’re asleep to take your teeth. The Easter Bunny hides eggs. Parents may even tell children about personal experiences with these holiday mascots.
Evidence. Your children may not see these holiday mascots, but they do find evidence that supports the idea of their existence. Teeth are missing, and money is under a pillow instead. Presents are under the tree at Christmas. Plastic eggs filled with candy are hidden in the house or yard.
Rituals. Parents often tell their children that they have to do something for the holiday mascot to visit. You leave out milk and cookies for Santa with carrots for the reindeer. You leave an empty basket out for the Easter Bunny to fill. You must put your tooth under your pillow for the tooth fairy to find.
Combined, each of these things establishes belief in holiday mascots for your child. With age, your child begins to develop critical thinking skills. They ask more questions about holiday mascots as they start to doubt the truth they’ve believed for so long. Most children stop believing between the ages of seven and eight.
This transition can take several years, beginning sooner and sometimes leaving your children believing for a while longer. By age 12, most kids come to the conclusion that holiday mascots aren’t real.
Telling the truth
When it’s time to tell your child the truth about the Easter Bunny or other holiday mascots, be strategic. You don’t want to continue lying about the Easter Bunny and other holiday mascots when they begin to realize the truth. Imagination is fun, but continuing to lie may be detrimental.
Children are small investigators. They love to learn new things, put pieces together, and form conclusions. When you empower your child to do this, you help them develop critical thinking skills. They feel smart for having figured it all out.
Instead of bursting the bubble all at once, you can ask questions about their beliefs. See where they stand and encourage them to come to a conclusion on their own. Once they understand the truth, you can explain that many other children still believe. Most children enjoy the magic of holiday mascots, so enjoy being in on the secret. Now they can be part of the magic for others like younger siblings.
Take emphasis away from the mascot
Addressing the lie
Many parents worry about their children feeling hurt by the holiday mascot lies. Studies show that while some children may be disappointed, most don’t feel like their parents were being mean by lying about Santa Claus and other holiday mascots. When your child begins to ask questions, answer truthfully but gently.
When parents bend the truth to allow their children to believe in something magical, it does more good than harm. Your child watches fictional characters on TV and reads about them in books. Your child’s belief in fantasy is a progression. Aside from fictional characters, they know that dinosaurs were once real but aren’t anymore. They see dragons in movies that aren’t real but can identify similarities to dinosaurs and even modern lizards.Allowing your child to believe in holiday mascots is beneficial to a certain point because it encourages imagination. As your child gets older, they realize that they can still enjoy the fantasy characters and holiday mascots while knowing it's pretend.
PLOS One Journal: "The child’s pantheon: Children’s hierarchical belief structure in real and non-real figures."
University of Texas at Austin: "Is Believing in Santa Bad or Good for Kids?"
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