This is an old post from the archives written by Suzanne, originally posted in 2012. Here’s where you can visit Santa in Memphis.
A mom asked: “At what age do you tell your child that the tooth fairy and Santa aren’t real or do you just wait and let them figure it out themselves? My nine-year-old is starting to question both, I think I should tell her the truth but my husband disagrees.”
My boys are currently 4 and 9. I’m not sure what my 9-year-old believes at this point, but I’ve been stressing over the past few years that he can ask me ANYTHING and I’ll tell him the truth. I want him to know that he can trust me. That other kids might share information that is not true, so he should come and ask me if he wants to truth. This was stressed recently when he said (at the dinner table): “I know shit and fuck are not bad words, but…” My husband freaked out. I took a breath and as calmly as possible explained that those are bad words and his friends mislead him. The two of us laughed later as he perfectly mimicked his dad’s shocked expression, and agreed with me that mom was a safer person to talk with than dad if he had a difficult question. My son and I *still* laugh about this and it’s been months!
Sally’s take (updated in 2017):
Because my now-6-year-old has never been a huge fan of Santa (I need to dig up the photos) we have downplayed him significantly in our house. She still is terrified of the idea that someone comes into your house while you’re there sleeping. This had, of course, a wonderful side effect of re-focusing the attention of Christmas on other areas. The lack of interest in Santa from my 6-year-old has rubbed off on my 3-year-old so, for now, we haven’t had many discussions. However, Santa still visits. It saddens me that the loss of innocence is occuring in children way younger these days than in generations past. That, however, is the case in many areas other than Christmas and can’t really be avoided if society is leading in that direction. I was always taught growing up that the Santas in the stores are “Santa’s helpers” (a wise move by my mother, from the very beginning). And we haven’t TOUCHED Elf on a Shelf. I wouldn’t have the discipline to keep that magic alive.
The moms had a lot to say on this topic. Here are some of their responses:
Tell Her The Truth
- By 9 she should be told. As a former teacher, I can tell you that it’ll only take one kid at school to let it slip or be plain out mean if they find out another child still believes. It can be kind of traumatic. She’ll do much better hearing the information from you.
- That she has made it to 9 years old without figuring it out is amazing! It’s always better coming from you because you can control the message and soften the blow, making a positive experience vs. an earth-shattering, soul-crushing revelation.
- If she asks you tell her the truth, don’t continue the tradition if she’s ready to know the truth.
- I found out in 5th grade when I wore a sweatshirt to school one day that said: “I still believe in Santa”. I was taunted by other kids in the class and made fun of for it. I remember it like it was yesterday so I will be telling my kids before they get humiliated at school. My 7-year-old hasn’t asked yet but I’m thinking by 10, she needs to know so she can help us continue the tradition for her brother and sister!
- I have always been honest with my kid, from the beginning. I never want him to feel that weird feeling that kids sometimes get when they try to figure out the point of the Santa lie when they’re older. I told him that Santa was a legend, we talked about what the story was and where it came from and how it was different in different parts of the world. I also told him that if he wanted to do the Santa tradition, we could. So we do, and we have lots of fun and we still have that “magic” feeling. I don’t regret the decision to be honest at all.
- I think it is very important to tell the truth. My son is 7 and has known for at least a year. He thinks it is really cool/special to be “in” on an adult secret! He helps by playing along with his little sister.
- Just tell the truth, especially if the child is asking about it.
- I found out the truth on my own (saw my mother getting out the Easter candy when she thought we were asleep). I felt betrayed. At least she did not lie when I asked about it. She told me the truth about the Easter Bunny, Santa and everything else. I think in a way, she was relieved. Children should not be lied to any more than adults should.
Don’t Tell Her
- Do not tell! Kids are very resilient. Let them be innocent as long as they can! Our world tries to attack kids innocence from every mode of media available.
- Don’t tell yet. My daughter made it till eleven. Christmas isn’t the same if the kids know the truth.
- Haven’t told him yet. He’s 10. I’m having to much fun with the lies!!!
- We just let ours figure it out. But when they actually asked I would turn it on them and ask what they thought.
- Don’t tell. My daughter believed until starting middle school. We did finally tell her before her first day of school because middle school kids can be pretty mean.
- My 9-year-old has asked a couple times and I’ve given her the same answer, “those who don’t believe, don’t receive”.
- We told ours that Santa quits existing when they quit believing.
- So sad when they find out. It forever changes Christmas morning. My 10 yr old was just devastated bc she quickly figured out that all the rest weren’t real either without me saying a word. She started asking around 9 too and was equally mad /devastated at me for lying to her for an additional year. Lol. Difficult decision. Good luck!! She is now 12 and hasn’t told her little sister bc she says she …”doesn’t want to ruin it” for her too.
- What about easing out of it with a discussion about helping Santa to help some other kids (via Angel Tree of the like). The discussion might lead (perhaps the next Christmas) to ‘being Santa’ for someone else. You can talk about how much joy it has brought you to share gifts and excitement with your child; would ‘child’ like to share that job?
- In our home when they start asking about if Santa is real or not I (usually around nine or ten) I smile and tell them, with a wink, “if you don’t believe he won’t come visit you. Most of the time they catch on and are in on the secret and then they help make it magical for the younger ones (we have eight). Our Christmas is centered around Christ, giving, love and yes, dear old Santa. I love the magic he brings and only for a short time in their lives do children get to experience that. As far as lying to my kids goes, not once have any one of them accused me of lying, about Santa. As they grow up my children have done just fine discerning between what is tradition and what is a lie and tell me they plan to keep the magic going in their homes as well.
- When my son started questioning it, I think 2nd grade, I wasn’t ready to give up the tradition. We still had a younger sibling. So we had a SANTA deliver the gifts during the night, we set a camera up to catch photos of him. Santa made lots of noise accidentally putting the presents out and we all including hubby, slipped in to peek in on him putting out the presents. As he left out the front door (no chimney) he turned and waved and said “merry Christmas Ben and Ab” and disappeared. Best thing ever. Ben is 9 now. He has begun to question again. I just remind him of that night. They will figure it out. We now have a 1-year-old, I want the boys to play along as long as they can.
Need inspiration for how to talk about this?
Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus – editorial from 1897
The Truth About Santa
“So, no. I am not Santa. Santa is love and magic and hope and happiness. I’m on his team, and now you are, too.”