My Child Has Doubts About Santa Claus: What Do I Do?

When children have doubts about Santa Claus, we have to tend to their maturity and monitor their emotions. Here's why.
My Child Has Doubts About Santa Claus: What Do I Do?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 16 December, 2022

For the little ones, Christmas is synonymous with magic. For months, they look forward to the arrival of this season, they’re fascinated by the illuminated streets and enthusiastically participate in the traditional rituals. Although, without a doubt, it’s the visit of Saint Nick and his reindeer that most catches their attention and fills their imagination. However, as they grow older it’s normal for them to begin to have doubts about Santa Claus. And that’s when parents may not know how to act.

In recent times, there’s been some controversy regarding the benefit or harm of encouraging children to believe in the existence of Santa Claus and his reindeer. Some experts suggest that this lie can undermine the bond of attachment and affect children’s trust in their parents. On the contrary, others claim that this belief helps them reinforce qualities such as patience, imagination, and even reasoning and skepticism.

In any case, once children grow up with these figures, it’s important to prepare for the moment when the truth is discovered. When’s the right time to tell them? Do we let them figure it out on their own? If they have doubts about Santa Clause, what should we say? How can we face this key moment? We’ll explore this matter in the following article.

Childhood fantasy and cognitive development

A young boy opening presents on Christmas morning.

Understanding the different stages of cognitive development is very important when addressing our children’s doubts about Santa Claus and the Three Kings. We must bear in mind that during the first years of life, children display difficulties in differentiating between reality and fantasy. Thus, they can believe in dragons and superheroes, claim that their dolls have feelings, or have imaginary friends.

For this reason, it’s unlikely that the little ones will raise any doubts about these Christmas figures. Although children are more skeptical than it may seem, the social fabric that supports these traditions gives them great realism.

As children grow and mature, they become more capable of reasoning and differentiating the imaginative world from the real one. From the age of six, this ability increases considerably, and by 12 years of age, they can distinguish it as well as an adult would.

It’s at this age bracket that most children begin to doubt, suspect, and demand explanations. However, this isn’t only due to their ability to reason but, in many cases, the questions arise from the comments they hear from someone else. Now, how should we act when this moment comes?

What to do if my child has doubts about Santa Claus?

If your child begins to raise doubts about Santa Claus, this doesn’t necessarily imply that they’ve stopped believing or that they’re ready to face reality. For this reason, it’s important to be cautious and try to keep up with your child.

Answer with open questions

Sometimes, little ones don’t directly question the existence of these magical figures, but they ask other indirect questions such as “how does Santa get into the house?” or “How does Santa have time to travel the world in one night?” In these cases, answering with open questions is a good strategy.

When faced with such doubts, ask your child what they think or how they think Santa Claus achieves all this. This, on the one hand, places the ball in their court and allows you to evade the issue without lying to them; but at the same time, it allows you to discover the degree of cognitive maturity and the level of doubts that your child is experiencing.

Based on their answers, you can have an idea of how to proceed. In many cases, children are satisfied with their own explanation and doubts dissipate over a few months or years. There’s no need to speed up the process, but rather, respect their timing.

Confirm the truth

If your child asks insistently or offers logical and mature reasoning to support the non-existence of these figures, confirm the truth. At this point, lying openly offers no benefit whatsoever.

On the other hand, you may perceive that your child has doubts about Santa Claus but doesn’t dare to share that concern with you. This is common, as many children are afraid to ask and discover the truth for fear of not receiving gifts or disappointing their parents. For the same reason, be attentive and willing to have that conversation when necessary.

Accompany the emotional process

For some children, confirming their doubts about Santa Claus isn’t a problem. For others, on the other hand, it can produce a strong emotional impact. Especially for those who’ve discovered the truth by chance and not thanks to their own cognitive process.

In any case, it’s important to allow the child to express their emotions and to accompany them in their grief. Indeed, this is a loss to them and shouldn’t be downplayed. Allow them to cry, get angry, or recriminate the lie. Likewise, it’s essential that you answer all their questions related to the subject and stay by their side as they integrate this new reality.

A mother and child embracing while looking at their christmas tree and stockings.

The magic of Christmas is still alive even if your child has doubts about Santa Claus

Even if your child has confirmed their suspicions and discovered the truth, they must know that the magic of Christmas can still live on. Explain that now they can keep the secret from other children and help sustain their illusion, something especially important if you have young relatives.

Remind them that they can continue writing their letters to Santa if they wish, and, above all, that they’ll still be able to enjoy family time and all the traditions that accompany these dates. After all, this is the true Christmas spirit.

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The contents of You Are Mom is for educational and informational purposes only. At no time do they replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. If in doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.