What to Do When Your Kid Finds Out the Truth About Santa

Boy sitting on Santa's lap

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If you celebrate Christmas, you might have told your kids about a certain jolly fellow who climbs down the chimney on December 24 with a sack full of presents in his sleigh. Whether you call him Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle or some other moniker, the story of Santa brings joy to children all over the world.

However, the magic of Santa can't last forever. At some point, nearly all kids will learn that it's actually their parents (or another family member) responsible for wrapping the presents and placing them under the tree while they're sleeping. You might be wondering when your children will find out the truth, and whether you should be the one to tell them first.

Read on to learn more about how long most kids believe in Santa Claus and what to do when they discover the truth about Saint Nick.

How Long Do Most Kids Believe in Santa?

Most kids believe that Santa is real until they are about 8 years old. By age 5 or 6, many children can distinguish between fact and fantasy, but they may hold onto the special Santa myth for a while longer for a few reasons.

First and quite simply, it's fun to believe in Santa Claus. And if parents, teachers, and peers all seem to reinforce the story, kids may have fewer reasons to be doubtful.

Children may also still possess magical thinking at this age, even when they can identify fact from fiction. "This is a developmental stage of childhood during which young children can easily believe in untrue connections between events," says Gail Saltz MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital and host of the "How Can I Help?" podcast from iHeartRadio.

If there are presents under the tree that weren't there before, and the cookies have been eaten, it can be easy for kids under 8 or so to reason that Santa Claus must obviously exist. And other incredulous details (like the question of whether Santa could logically descend every chimney in the world in one night) are likely explained away with the idea of magic.

"However, somewhere between 8 and 10, children start to develop the ability to reason, and it makes them doubt whether the stories they've heard about Santa are true," says Dr. Saltz. "This is when they are likely to question the concept as a whole."

Some kids might ask probing questions, but others may just figure it out on their own. "My kids just told me and my wife that Santa wasn't real," says Robert Johnson, a father of three in San Antonio, Texas.

What to Do If Another Kid Tells Yours That Santa Isn't Real

Don't be surprised if your kid comes home in tears because another child told them that Santa doesn't exist. All families make different decisions about what they tell their kids about Santa, and some children will become suspicious at a younger age. Try not to blame the kid who ratted Santa out, and instead focus on how you will respond to your own child.

You have a couple of options if another kid spills the beans. One path is to reassure your child that Santa is real, but explain that some people don't believe in him. This can be a good way to respond if your child is very young and/or seems especially brokenhearted. Reading a book or watching a holiday film that deals with the existence of Santa, like "The Polar Express," can be helpful if you go this route.

Another option is to level with your child and own up to the truth. This can undoubtedly be challenging. However, if your child is on the older side and seems to be convinced, it may be better to give it to them straight. Continuing to push the Santa myth when they're beginning to suspect the truth isn't beneficial for building trust. However, you can soften the blow by sharing the historical story of Saint Nicholas and explaining how his life fits into the traditions we know today.

You can also take a more ambiguous approach. You may choose to tell your child that some people don't believe in Santa, but others do. You might tell them that everyone gets to decide whether or not they believe, and let them make their own choice.

What to Do If Your Child "Catches" You Playing Santa

You've placed the last present under the tree and you're sitting down to eat your well-earned cookies when you see one of your kids peering down at you from the top of the stairs. Uh-oh. You have been caught red-handed playing Santa.

Again, the way you respond will depend on your child's age and reaction. If you're pretty sure they were onto you anyway and snuck out of their room to spy, now can be a good time for the truth. Offer your child a big hug, and sit down to discuss what Christmas magic really means.

On the other hand, if you have a younger child who might have woken up to ask for something to drink, try to think on your feet and improvise. You can say you just got up for a midnight snack and found a few cookies left. Maybe even offer them a bite and look out the window together to see if you can spot a reindeer-drawn sleigh, since Santa clearly stopped by already.

When to Tell the Truth About Santa

You don't have to break the truth to your child when they reach a magic age, especially if they seem to really enjoy the Santa story. That being said, consider that many of their friends will be finding out the truth at some point. Perhaps you'd rather your kid hear it from you than a peer.

If your child asks if Santa is real, and you can tell they deeply suspect the answer, give them the truth. For many parents, the Santa story is a gray area when it comes to honesty, but it may prove harmful to lie a kid who is developmentally ready for the facts. "If your child is asking directly because they are coming to an age where they are developing doubts based on their reasoning skills, I think it’s best to be truthful with them," advises Dr. Saltz.

What if You Have Younger Children at Home, Too?

If you have younger children at home, talk to your older kids about helping to keep the magic alive. Remind them how much they loved the Santa story when they were young, and encourage them not to take that away from the younger ones by spilling the beans.

Try to make your Santa-wise kids a part of that magic for their siblings. Maybe even let older kids help "play" Santa after the little ones are in bed.

A Word From Verywell

Santa Claus is a fun character who makes a big impression on kids who celebrate Christmas. But as with all childhood fantasies, this one will come to an end, and eventually, children learn the truth about Santa and who is actually delivering their presents on Christmas Eve.

Enjoy the magic of Santa Claus as long as it makes your child happy, but don't hide the truth once they're old enough to grasp it. You can put a positive spin on this conversation by focusing on what the spirit of Santa Claus means and what really makes Christmas magic: love, family, and tradition.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Samuels A, Taylor M. Children’s ability to distinguish fantasy events from real-life events. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 1994;12(4):417-427. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.1994.tb00644.x.

  2. Brashier NM, Multhaup KS. Magical thinking decreases across adulthood. Psychology and Aging. 2017;32(8):681-688. doi: 10.1037/pag0000208.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.