Answering the Santa Question to Your Preschooler
You might get the question when your child is 4 years old or when he is 5. She might wait to ask it until she is 7. 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 tell a 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 accept the answer she seeks. These suggestions will guide you in your preparation.
1. Before answering your child's Santa question directly, ask clarifying questions.
Determine his present frame of reference and how much his peers or siblings have already told him. The fact that your child has asked this question indicates that he has been thinking about it and needs further clarification.
Ask your child what she has been thinking, who has given her information and what she feels about what she already knows. From the answers you get to these questions you will glean what information needs to be clarified and where you need to begin.
2. Once you have information about what your child already knows ask him, "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 and nothing more. They may return at a later date to learn more, but some children take away what they already 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.
3. 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.
4. As you begin your explanation of why Santa was created, focus on the importance of giving.
Move the attention away from Santa, and concentrate your discussion on the idea of giving from the heart.
This could also be the time to talk about your family's religious views. Explain the "reason for the season" from your family's moral, ethical and religious point of view.
5. 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 feel 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 in this situation.
6. Mark this time in your child's life.
Treat this moment as a milestone and 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 – being someone "in the know" about Santa.
7. Finally, invite your child to play a bigger role in the joy and 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."
If you take these suggestions to heart, it won't matter when the Santa question comes. Whether it comes after your trip to the mall to visit Santa, the night before Christmas or in the middle of July, you will be ready. Regardless of your child's reaction, your preparedness will carry you through.