How to talk to children about Santa Claus - as explained by an expert

With the countdown to Christmas officially on, the festive season always poses a tricky question for parents - when is the right time to talk to children about Santa Claus, and how should they break the news?

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This is what Professor Ewan Gillon, Chartered Psychologist and Clinical Director at First Psychology Scotland has to say about broaching the potentially difficult conversation with the younger members of your family.

At what age should I tell my children the truth about Santa?

While there is no correct age at which you should break the news, Professor Gillon says that, on average, kids start to stop believing in Santa Claus at around eight and a half years old.

He explains, “Often, this is not a sudden change from one day to the next, but a gradual process of questioning, which may start a few years earlier.”

Generally speaking, kids will let their parents know when the right time to have the conversation is, usually by asking questions about the logistics behind Santa - or even asking outright if he is real.

Professor Gillon says, “My biggest piece of advice is to let your child determine the point in time when the subject is approached.

“You will know your kids are ready to question Santa’s existence when they start asking whether he is real. Sometimes, the impetus may not come directly from your kids, but from their peers instead.

“Hearing others say that Santa isn’t real may have upset or confused your child, so it is important to approach this conversation gently and with kindness.”

How should I tell them about Santa Claus?

“As children get older, you may find they are no longer asking whether Santa is real, but rather tell you he doesn’t exist,” Professor Gillon explains.

“This is often a good time to have a more in-depth conversation.”

One way of approaching the conversation is to try reframing your children’s perspective around Christmas, making it less about Santa himself.

Professor Gillon says, “Ideas like love and care for others as well as spreading cheer are closely linked to Christmas, with or without Father Christmas dropping presents through a chimney.

“Gradually introducing those ideas and using them almost as a way of reducing Santa’s responsibility will help your child adjust.”

Ask them the question

“If you, as a parent, feel it’s too soon to burst the bubble and would like to keep the magic of Santa alive a little longer, it’s worth turning the question back to your children. Find out why they are asking if Santa is real,” adds Professor Gillon.

Turning questions back on your kids also helps them come to their own conclusions, and put the pieces together.

Will my child be upset because they were lied to?

You should be prepared for your child to potentially be upset at finding out the truth.

Professor Gillon says, “Someone children may, at least initially, be upset and feel that they have been lied to by the adults around them.

“But it's important to allow your child to share their feelings. At the same time, why not tell them how much you loved believing in Santa when you were growing up, and that is why you chose to make this story part of their childhood.”

While your child might be shocked or upset, they will be okay.

What should I do after they’ve been told?

Telling your kids about Santa Claus doesn’t mean that the Christmas spirit is now gone, or that there’s no reason to be excited about Christmas anymore.

The revelation about Santa Claus allows you and your family to try creating your own Christmas traditions that continue the same festive feeling, just without Saint Nick.

The Professor says, “While each child is different and each family situation is unique, there is no need for an abrupt shift from believing one thing to another.

“If you have children of different ages, you may find that your older kids are happy to know ‘the truth’ but still keep the secret for the benefit of their younger siblings.

“It’s part of them growing up and taking responsibility, whilst helping keep the magic alive.”

‘Don’t forget to keep the magic alive’

Professor Gillon says, “At the end of the day, listen to your children and to your inner child.

“Allow your children to discover the truth about Santa at their own pace, guiding them gently through their questions.

“And don’t forget to keep the magic alive.”