Is your child asking too many questions about Santa? Experts weigh in with how to handle it

Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 4:39 p.m. CST; updated 3:46 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

COLUMBIA — If Santa Claus is still alive and well in your home, you might not want to let them read this story.

If they read this story, there’s a good chance you’ll be answering the not-so-happy question, “Is there a Santa Claus?”

Young children enjoy the stories of flying reindeers, a toy workshop at the North Pole, and elves working around the clock to help Santa create his toys. Yet, during the holiday season, some parents struggle to answer their child’s questions.

The answer largely depends on the personality of the child that is asking the question, said Karen Kelley, an instructor at MU’s Child Development Lab.

“Sometimes kids hear about it (that there is no Santa Claus), and you don’t have to tell them anything,” Kelley said. “Many times parents still have to explain the imaginative part.”

Jean Ispa, co-chairwoman and professor of the MU human development and family studies department, said children around age 7 begin to question imaginative characters such as the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy and, of course, Santa Claus.

“Children’s beliefs in magical events begin to subside,” Ispa said.

Kelley observes this first-hand with the lab’s young children, and she said it tends to occur between the ages of 6 and 8.

“They begin to understand cartoons aren’t real,” Kelley said. “They begin to understand the difference between imaginary and reality.”

Kelley says there are a few easy ways to go about answering their questions, if you are facing this dilemma soon.

One way to break the news is to talk about the different ways other families and cultures may, or may not, celebrate Christmas.

“Different people believe different things,” Kelley said. “We can all be friends and believe in things differently.”

Sometimes, children may feel lied to or misled if parents wait too long to tell them. In these situations, Kelley suggests being honest and telling them that Santa Claus is meant for fun and excitement, and there was no intention to hurt the child’s feelings.

One of the best ways that Kelley suggests is to tell children about the meaning of Santa Claus and the philosophy of giving and receiving he represents during the holiday season. She also recommends talking about sharing with those less fortunate.

“Let them know that they can help out others, too,” Kelley said.

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