Close your eyes and think of your earliest Christmas memories. The lights on the tree. The cookies and milk on the table before bed. Odds are, when you were younger you started to be a little “extra good” around December to earn a few bonus points with the man at the North Pole. After all, he knows when you’ve been good or bad, right?
For millions of children across the world, the holiday season is a magical time of year and Santa Claus is an essential piece of that puzzle. At some point though, we all find out the truth. But, when is too early?
“It almost seems as if Santa Claus is sketched in our brain as a precursor for all future holiday memories through adulthood,” says Dorcas Velez, a licensed mental health counselor located in Avalon Park. According to Velez, sometimes awakening your children to the reality about Santa is not a simple process because of how much has been invested into the fantasy. She says: “A good age to learn about the reality of Santa is typically around 7-10 years of age. These are termed the industrialist years, when children are ready to create their own fantasies and be very creative as well.”
Many parents utilize Santa to elicit compliance and modify behaviors – and it works. When kids find out the truth, parents should be prepared to lose some of that power around the holidays. “Considering these tough economic times, many parents may feel tempted to prematurely disclose Santa; but it’s best to consult the emotion of the child and what circumstances are taking place in the home first,” Velez says.
Many families are facing separation and conflict of various types and, as such, they tend to leave the child out of the decision making process, which can be harmful. Velez suggests including input from the child wherever possible, including the decision to reveal the truth about Saint Nick. The more difficult and complicated the life of a child is, the harder it gets to stop depending on Santa.
Finding out too early could be devastating for their memories of family and Christmas. “Kids need to build up their ego strength, and they might still need the fantasy of Santa for the world to make sense for them,” says Velez. As the secret behind Santa becomes harder to protect, it’s important to remember what the image represents to the child as well. “In essence, the innocence and importance of fantasy and play are necessary for healthy emotional development,” she says.
If there are older siblings involved, it’s best to consult with them as well and make sure they understand the importance of Santa for their younger brother or sister. Remind them of when they were younger, how much they enjoyed the fantasy and what it means to them.
Velez has seen some cases where a child suddenly stops believing in Santa before they’re ready to please the parents. Her advice is to check in with the child and find out why they believed in the first place. Let them know it’s OK to believe. “Use this opportunity to help the child transition the lessons learned from Santa, like being generous, and apply it toward volunteering or helping out less fortunate children,” she says.
“Good memories pull families together and keep them together longer, but it takes dedication and hard work to make those memories,” says Velez. But the importance of those good memories cannot be understated. “It’s a great thing to keep all of your ‘good Santa memories’ intact, even if everything else back home becomes complicated.”
Article by Corey Gehrold