How to Respond When Your Child Asks About Santa

Young boy writing a letter to Santa
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As they grow and begin to understand the world better, kids begin to ask tough questions. Besides the "Where do babies come from" question, many parents dread the day one of their kids asks, "Is Santa real?" It will likely catch you by surprise, but there are several ways you can handle it.

Recognize Age Matters

It can be hard for parents to accept that their children are growing up and letting go of childhood traditions and notions. For many parents, it's downright painful to think that their child has grown out of the Santa years and all the fun that's associated with the belief in Santa and his little elves.

6- to 7-Year-Olds

Although questions about Santa can happen at any age, many come up with school-aged children because of conversations with other kids. Your 6- or 7-year-old may have overheard something at school and want reassurance that Santa will indeed show up at Christmas.

Before you immediately reinforce the concept of Santa, try to determine if your child is ready to let go of the idea of Santa or is just having some doubts. Once you know where your child's questions are coming from, you will know better how to respond.

One study found that children generally discover the truth about Santa around age 7, but they predominantly felt a sense of pride over making the discovery. Meanwhile, parents in the study were sad that their kids no longer believed in Santa. So, be sure you're truly responding to your child's questions and not simply trying to keep the tradition alive for your own benefit.

8- to 9-Year-Olds

An 8- or 9-year-old may really be asking if it's still OK for them to pretend that there is a Santa so they don't miss out on anything. At this age, you'll want to use your judgment as to their true intent behind the questions. Some kids are ready for the truth at this age; others are not. If needed, ask a few probing questions like, "Why do you ask?" before deciding how to answer.

Keep in mind that research shows that even when children discover that Santa is not real, they still like the idea of Santa. So, a discovery about Santa doesn't mean that your Christmas traditions are over. It simply means that the traditions will change.

10- to 11-Year-Olds

By the time they reach 10 or 11, your tween will probably no longer believe in Santa Claus. This transition is developmentally appropriate. During these years, children become more self-aware.

They also begin to get a pretty good grip on reality. But don't be alarmed if your tween still pretends to believe or wants to believe. Some tweens hold onto their childhood beliefs for as long as they possibly can.

The truth is that if your children are asking questions like "Is Santa real?", they probably already know the truth or have an idea about the reality of the tradition. They may just be looking for validation from you.

In fact, it's during middle childhood (between ages 7 and 12) that kids are able to think about Santa Claus simultaneously in two different ways. They are able to view Santa as a pleasing concept that helps them enjoy Christmas and as someone who is not real.

Be Truthful

If you think your child has it all figured out, it's a good idea to be truthful. For instance, you could explain that Saint Nicholas was, in fact, a real person from long ago. He was known for leaving presents for the children in his village and for caring for the less fortunate. The legend grew over time, becoming the story we all know today.

The discussion about Santa is a good time to instill your family's beliefs and values by bringing them up in the conversation. You might do this by reinforcing the idea that the spirit of Santa represents what is in the hearts of all people who are kind and generous.

Even adults understand that there is some "magic" to the legend of Santa Claus and that it cannot always be explained. How many sour hearts have been turned sweet by the inspiration of Santa? Is that not magic? Is it not real? How has his legend managed to survive from generation to generation?

You can also remind children that reality is often about perspective and faith. If your children understand that belief and faith are choices we all make, they may choose to believe in something even greater and enduring.

Share your thoughts on what you believe and why, and then give them time to figure out their own beliefs.

Restructure Christmas Traditions

The inevitable conversation about Santa's existence might also be a good opportunity to revise some of your family's annual Christmas traditions. Instead of writing a letter to Santa every year, your child could become a Secret Santa for a younger sibling or neighborhood child.

Your children could also bake cookies or bread for elderly neighbors. Ask how they might like to "take over" for Santa and spread the cheer and generosity that they have always known.

While kids may no longer look for reindeer on Christmas Eve, your tween might be ready to embrace the spirit of Santa Claus and spread the joy of giving in their own special way. Helping do so guarantees that in your child's heart, Santa will live forever and that he is, in fact, very real.

A Word From Verywell

This single question—"Is Santa real?"—can be a challenge for any parent, and it will happen eventually. If your child is ready, your best answer may be, "Yes, he is. But not in the way you think. Here's what I mean..." Learning about the realities of Santa can be an excellent learning experience in caring and generosity that children of any age will remember.

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  1. Cyr C. Do reindeer and children know something that we don't? Pediatric inpatients' belief in Santa ClausCMAJ. 2002;167(12):1325-1327. PMID:12473618