Often around this time of year this a lot of talk around Santa, elf on the shelf and how best to approach it all with our little ones. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this one – and many of them strong. Should we tell kids he isn’t real? What bits are ok and not ok?
Whilst I know there are some elements of the Santa narrative that are less ideal for kids, I do think we can control some of that less helpful messaging about Santa without getting rid of Santa altogether.
First, let’s start with development: Kids believe in things they can’t see, and they always have. Childhood is meant to have magic and make-believe.
Part of their development is working out with age that the good things (like Santa) and the bad things (the boogieman) are not real in the way you imagined and yet also real in their own way. I think this is something we can allow to gently unfold over time.
Like all stories and belief systems, the way you shape the story for your family is up to you. Your culture, your children, who they are and how you connect. No one can tell you there is a right or wrong way to enjoy this story of Christmas and Santa for your family and I love that about it.
However, like all aspects of parenting. We have changed and evolved the way we do things over the years and are aspects of the stories we tell about Santa that are less helpful.
Tips for talking to your kids about Santa
Here are some tips on how to shape your story about Santa for younger kids and older kids:
Tell your story about Santa the way that works best for you. Reading books together or preparing your kids for Santa can be a great way to enjoy the lead up to Christmas and also create memories and connections.
Talk your kids through where Santa will leave the presents and where we will leave the milk or cookies. This can help them prepare to engage in the fun. Kids like to be mentally prepared, things will go better when they know what to expect.
Be flexible. If your little one doesn’t want Santa coming into their room let them know you will make sure presents will be left outside the door. Keep the story within their limits and let them know you can help them with anything they need.
Using Santa as a threat or bribe: Telling kids that they won’t get presents if they are “bad” won’t help them be good. Kids need connection and clear boundaries not threats.
Implying they are being watched or judged – by an Elf on a shelf or that you plan to phone Santa and tell him about their behaviour. None of us would do our best feeling like there is surveillance in our own homes. Boundaries are best set without threats or bribes, clear is kind and using Santa for this is unclear and possibly a bit scary for little kids.
Talking about good vs bad, good behaviour being rewarded with more presents or bad behaviour resulting in less.
This won’t help our little kids to behave any better. Using empathy and gentle guidance is much more effective. We want our kids to know that we love them unconditionally, this is a much more helpful message at Christmas.
What about older kids, when do we tell them the truth?
As kids get older, they may have more questions about Santa and how his magic really works. When it comes time to give them more information, I think it’s about tuning in and double-checking what they mean by their question to make sure they really are asking what you think they are asking.
When you sense they know or are ready to know it’s about ensuring you have space to talk.
You can let your child know that Santa is kind of real, because there is always someone younger we are keeping that magic alive for.
When we break it down, Santa is about generosity, kindness, and fun and there is no reason the spirit of this has to end once our kids know the truth.