How to Ensure You Don’t Botch the “Is Santa Real?” Conversation

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5 Tips to Ensure You Don't Botch the "Is Santa Real?" Conversation

Tell me the truth . . . Is Santa real?

How you answer this loaded question can empower — or completely crush — your child’s spirit. This is a must-read article for parents of young children. Keep these tips in your pocket for that random Tuesday night when your little one unexpectedly throws this life-altering question at you.

Below is a parent-tested way to turn this tricky inquiry into a magical milestone for you and your child.

* * *

We live in an age when children are growing up too fast. Part of me desperately wants to hold on to my girls’ innocence as they believe in the magic of Santa. However, last winter (when our girls were in first and second grade), her schoolmates were discussing and debating the topic among themselves on the playground. So I started to explore the topic with other parents and friends, asking, How do you hold onto the magic of the holidays as your kids get older? Especially when you know they might be getting mixed messages from other children and people in their lives?

If you’re dealing with a really young child, the best approach is to turn the question back on them, and simply ask, “What do YOU think?” You can tell how much a little one wants to talk about the topic by how easily you can redirect their attention. Chances are they’ll share their ideas and then move on to chatting about how much candy canes look like J’s, and that’ll be the end of “The Santa Talk” . . . for now.

Eventually, you will have to have that conversation, though. And when you do, you want to be prepared with that “just right” thing to say. So, read on for tips to help you be ready for when that fateful day happens to you . . .

Last December, my good friend was driving her nine-year-old daughter home from dance class one night when from the darkness of the backseat came a plea:

“Mom, tell me the TRUTH… Is Santa real?”

My friend’s first instinct was to reply something along the lines of, “Well, all I know is that kids who believe in Santa are the ones who get gifts in our house.” Yet, she could tell from the tone of her child’s voice that carrying on down that path was not going to cut it that night. She took a deep breath, pulled the minivan over, turned around to the backseat and instead said with a smile:

“Oh, honey. I’m so PROUD of you. You figured it out — the magic of Christmas. [She winked and gave her daughter’s hand a gentle squeeze.] I knew you could do it. This is so exciting! Now YOU get to be part of creating all the secret magic for your little brother. This is gonna be SOOOOOO MUCH FUN this year.

The tone of this happy and honest response will likely take your child by surprise. The tone of this happy and honest response will likely take your child by surprise. It helps eliminate any embarrassment they might feel and turn it into awakening pride for figuring out this larger-than-life secret that everyone but them seemed to be “in on.” It quickly flips their disappointment with you or the situation as a whole on its head and channels the funny feeling in their stomach into a moment of recognition for the celebrated milestone that just occurred. Suddenly, your child feels confident and honored to be part of the elaborate rouse being staged worldwide.

If you like, you can continue to explain that . . .

Santa’s not some guy in a big red suit who comes down the chimney — he’s so much more. He was a man, a saint from long ago, who was so unbelievably generous that he inspired others to also give charitably. So, in that way, the magic of Santa is in fact very real, since the SPIRIT OF SANTA lives on to this day. [Read this post from Martha Brockenbrough for additional inspiration.]

So what exactly does having your child “be part of the magic of Santa” mean? It could mean:

  • Helping carry on the Santa tradition and secret for other little children in your family, church, or community
  • Secretly gifting a family in need for the holidays (Click here to read more about Teaching the Joy of Giving to your children.)
  • Ringing bells for the Salvation Army or donating to another charitable cause
  • Baking treats for your local fire department
  • Spreading holiday cheer in all manner of ways

Really, it’s a personal choice that’s up to you and your family to decide what feels right for you.

But you might start with entrusting your child with the all-important duty of secretly devouring the cookies and milk on Santa’s tray after everyone’s gone to bed on Christmas Eve, to be sure their little brother keeps believing in the magic of Santa. They’ll get a charge out of leaving some crumbs as “evidence,” and you’ll get the joy of seeing the twinkle in their eye as they partake in your family’s special traditions for keeping the world’s best-kept secret alive!

Be creative. Be yourselves. Be MAGICAL!

Let’s chat more in the comments, shall we? I’m sure you all have great ideas to share.

Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. ~Kafka

At its core, this post is really about parents helping parents. Two years ago, my friend Kerry Rose shared all of this Santa advice with me. Her girls are older than mine, so she’d already been through “The Santa Talk.” I thought her approach was brilliant!

I happened to share Kerry’s suggestions with another friend of mine — A week later, her own nine-year-old daughter caught her by surprise, asking for the truth about Santa. She called me, thanking me for sharing Kerry’s wonderful advice, going on and on about how well the conversation went because she’d been prepped to stay positive and treat it as an accomplishment with her daughter, instead of feeling disappointed or defensive.

And that, my friends, is why I’m sharing this advice with you, too. We parents need to stick together, learn from one another, and share these tried-and-true secrets so we can all be our best selves — on a random Tuesday night in December, and every other day of the year!


PS: Do you remember when you found out Santa wasn’t real? How old were you?
Share your story on Facebook or in the comments below.



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How you answer this loaded question can empower — or completely crush — your child’s spirit. This is a must-read...

Image Credit:
© Alexandre Normand | 11.25.12 | CC by 2.0
© Alexandre Normand | 07.28.12 | CC by 2.0

  • Jennifer

    Thank you for sharing this! My daughter’s 2 so hopefully I have many years yet before this conversation, but I love this approach! It’s similar to how my mom handled it. Basically sliding from the literal belief in a man who comes to deliver gifts to the understanding of the spirit of Christmas. I love the added touch of treating it like a milestone! It is.. and though it can be sad, I love the attempt at making it a brighter thing. Maybe if more parents would take the time to treat it this way we’d have fewer disgruntled adults out there denying their children the gift of Santa because they’re bitter over being “lied” to when they were kids!

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Jennifer, thanks for the comment. Yes! I believe it is a wonderful milestone to be celebrated. I am glad to see so many parents engaged and potentially turning it into something wonderful.

  • Melissa Barajas

    How about not lying to children in the first place by telling them there’s a Santa & instead giving them gifts “just because” rather than on a holiday because “it’s what everyone else is doing”.

    • Michelle

      Its beyond just an “everybody” doing it holiday. some people celebrate Christmas for a religion. Christianity is not the only religion that does gifts. the Jews give gifts during Hanukkah as well.

      Its not even about “lying” as you called it, its allowing the child to expand their imagination. its healthy for children to imagine. imagining what the north pole would look like for instance for the sake of Christmas. or the elves, and contemplating ALL the ways Santa could get across the world in one night, Its fun for children and allows their creative thinking to grow stronger.

      • Ashley C

        Christmas is not necessary for children to use their imagination and be full of wonder. The magic of Christmas and the lore of Santa is very much real in our home without ever lying. This post suggests all these things to say, yet they’re the things we said from the very beginning to make it special and honest. This post addresses a way to distract them from the expected disappointment in you as a parent who kept it from them, ways to distract them from embarrassment at being fooled. If we have to come up with a way to prevent that scenario then we should rethink having ever done it to begin with. There is no short of imagination, magic, or wonder in our home and we even still enjoy all the usual traditions…but without the weight of a lie.

        • LetsLassotheMoon

          Ashley, as I mentioned in the post, this “is really about parents helping parents.” Feel free to share how you’ve spread, “the magic of Christmas and the lore of Santa ” in your home with parents here in the comment. I am sure people would enjoy reading the suggestions.

          • Suzanne Tucker

            Ashley, I love your consistent, positive nature — even here in your replies. Thank you. xo

    • Diane

      I know someone who professed to be ‘traumatized’ by the fact her parents had “lied” to her… and so had given it some though while our kids were very young, as I’m not against enjoying the atmosphere of the season. I’ve never made up any extra details for what the kids pick up outside the house, and talk about ‘the story everyone tells’, traditions, customs… the oldest is six at the moment and still convincing >himself< that its true. Even though I've left many leads he could follow, I believe I even used the phrase 'playing along' at one point, but he's not biting yet ;-)

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Melissa, as I mentioned in the post, this “is really about parents helping parents.” Please feel free to share your story for parents in the comments. When you were a parent, how did your parents present “We’re not celebrating Christmas anymore”?

      • Melissa Barajas

        We began to seriously study the bible & being a quite serious child, learning the truths about the origins of Christmas & how it had nothing to do with the bible or Jesus was a pretty easy way for us to not want to celebrate anymore. I already knew these things as a small child, I just liked the gifts. So we continued the gifts. I know it’s a sensitive subject for many, but the information is out there & some prefer to hold onto tradition over truth. And Jesus did say “the truth will set you free.”

    • Merry

      Good on you. It’s hard stand against the tide of commercialism that exists today, and you are doing it! yeah for you guys!!

  • Amanda @ Dirt and Boogers

    I love this post so much….thank you for writing it. My son is only 3 and believes with all his heart that santa is real. I’m going to bookmark this for later, hopefully not too soon!

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Amanda, my friend Kerry shared this with me years ago and I did the same thing … I mentally bookmarked it. I can feel my girls getting closer and closer to the conversation. I think this might be the year. We will see. Thanks for the sweet note.

  • Emma Smith

    I love the post Zina and have shared it on my page. Such a positive empowering approach.

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Thanks for sharing Emma!

  • Suzanne Tucker

    Sharing this now on my mom’s group FB page. LOVE the magic embody in ideas shared above…

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Thanks for sharing Suzanne!

  • Monique Weeks

    we decided when we 1st became parents that ‘Santa’ would just be our stocking filler…not gift giver. Our kids know that mum and dad buy the presents. We told them we wrote a letter to Santa to ask if he could just do our stockings. I dont encourage them to write letters asking for stuff. But Im not going to deny them the choice to believe, when they decide they no longer believe I will use some of the helpful tips above :) We already tell them about Saint Nic and the fact that Christmas is about giving gifts and the birth of Christ. I was raised in a Christian home and we always knew it was a fun ‘game’ but that didnt stop me wanting to believe. We also knew they it was so special you couldnt spoil it for other kids.

    • LetsLassotheMoon

      Thanks for sharing this variation for parents Monique. I’ve been talking about this statement with parents too, “We also knew they it was so special you couldn’t spoil it for other kids.” That is something I want to make sure I do with my girl as well.

  • Merry

    I guess going along with the whole ‘Santa’ concept as being real, is fine if you’re happy with telling lies to your children. If your children know it’s just a game, and you want to play it as a family, that’s fine, but of course there are many other games one could play instead. The problem comes when you’ve told them the Easter Bunny is real, the Tooth Fairy is real, Santa is real – all of which aren’t real. Then when you then have something you do want your children to believe in that they can’t see they’ll just add it the pile of other ‘lies Mum and Dad told me’. Our daughter has known right from the get go that Santa is not real and that the presents that miraculously appear on her bed overnight are from Mum and Dad… she is as super excited as any kid I’ve ever known who thinks Santa delivered them. We teach our children to tell the truth, so why don’t we do the same?

    • tamvw

      I feel sorry for you and especially for your children. You certainly could use a dose of the magic of Christmas.

    • Kben

      This is how we are approaching Xmas with our 2yr old. Santa is just a game some families play. When he is old enough to ask more detailed questions we will ask him how it’s at all possible…. Please don’t feel ‘sorry’ for those of us that choose to do something different, it doesn’t affect you. Happy Holidays

    • RK Tor

      I remember when I found out, around the age of five. It made it harder to trust my parents once I knew they had lied to me. As a child, it made it very confusing about which types of lies are okay and which are not. My husband and I have discussed it and we’ll be handling the situation much like you have. I think it’s more important to instill in them the idea of doing good for the less fortunate and spending time with family.

  • wingette

    What about when it’s your youngest who is asking the question, then there is no younger siblings for them to help with. How would that conversation go positively? I enjoy the magic Santa brings so much but do not look forward to it ending.

  • Amanda@Not Just Cute

    I love your friend’s response! I don’t think I could be as quick on my feet! My father-in-law says he still believes in Santa, because it was many anonymous Santa’s that served his family very generously during one particularly hard winter. It made me realize that when the time comes, I can teach my kids about that winter and tell them that anyone who gives only out of love and without hope of reward can be a part of Santa’s magic. I’ll have to add in some of your friend’s wording as well when that time comes!

  • Kim Rowe

    I think this is wonderful advice and such a loving response! It’s a beautiful way to continue a special relationship between a child and something intangible, as the relationship shifts throughout a person’s life. When my husband and I thought about whether or not to take part in the tradition of Santa for our daughters we considered every viewpoint on the subject. We could care less about the consumer aspect. Ultimately, we decided we wanted Santa to be in their lives. We feel the experience of having something that is benevolent, larger than life, hard to imagine and full of magic is a gift in of itself. Children may have a hard time when they are young connecting to Spirit because it’s even harder to imagine and so MUCH larger than life, but Santa feels a little more tangible and to us opens the door for wonder and possibilities beyond what we can immediately hear or see.

  • rebecca at thisfineday

    Wonderful advice! And such beautiful photos. Thank you. I’ll carry this with me when the time comes (which I hope is many years from now!).

  • Colleen

    Just found this post on Pinterest and am pinning it for later for my kids. I found out Santa wasn’t real when I was ten and snooping around in my mothers closet…I found a letter that I had sent to Santa so I knew he wasn’t real. The magic of Santa and Christmas is a special part of my childhood and I loved it. I wasn’t traumatized that he wasn’t real or that my parents had lied to me. I was excited that I could share the magic with my younger siblings until they figured it out. That was so much fun!

  • Darla@pschooltoolbox

    My youngest son, who is about to turn 8, asked just this year and is very aware of “private” conversations going on in our household. I have a preschool/childcare in my home and he has been designated “Santa’s helper” to hide our “alternative elf on the shelf” every morning for the younger kids! He LOVES the role of helping carry the spirit to younger ones. He doesn’t know for sure yet, but I suspect this will be his last Christmas as an innocent little boy. We will have many future conversations, but I love your post. The spirit of Christmas really never dies, does it?!:) I still carry the hopes and dreams! I pray that in his little heart…and as he grows…he will, too! Thank you!

  • Rachel @TaoOfPoop

    Your friend used such a gentle, compassionate and thoughtful approach to one of life’s first initiations into the real world. I’m going to remember this for when my daughter is older. She is a toddler and, right now, she thinks Bing Crosby is Santa, when we listen to Jingle Bells! Everyone is Santa!

  • Ness@ One Perfect Day

    I have been feeling worried about how to handle the Santa issue with my son. My own reaction to being told was that I felt very hurt and betrayed and I was worried my son would react the same way. After reading this I feel so reassured. I get it now that it’s all about how the response is handled, the when, the how, the attitude. After reading this I feel like I know how to deal with it sensitively. Thank you!

  • Jen Farr

    Amazing! I love this response. My girls are 7 and 10. To be honest it is my 7 year old who is the questioner. When the time is right this approach will be very helpful. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • Kim@EverythingEtsy

    Beautiful post!

    Merry Christmas!


  • K.V.

    I was about seven when I figured out there was no Santa Claus and asked my mother if he was real. I’ll never forget how she answered. She said, “How come you’ve never asked me if there’s really a President of the United States?” I said, “Well, I know the President is real because I see him on TV.” Then she said, “But you see Santa on TV, too. So how come you know there’s a President of the United States but you’re not sure if there’s a Santa Claus?” I said, “Well, because I don’t see how he could fly around the world in one night, and I’ve never seen an elf, and I’ve seen reindeer but they can’t fly.” She said, “You’re right; and you’re very smart for figuring it out on your own!” Then she explained about suspension of disbelief, and told me that Christmas would be that much merrier for me if I suspended disbelief of Santa Claus. As a result, I wasn’t sad or heartbroken like so many children are when I found out that Santa wasn’t real. Because of my mother’s carefully chosen words, I felt proud to be smart enough to figure out about Santa!

  • Steph J

    I’m currently dealing with this issue with my 7 and 5 year old boys. They are both questioning this year and I’m so glad I found this article as a way to “end” Santa but still carry on the magical Christmas season for them. I have to admit, I never wanted to introduce Santa to my children. It was really the grandparents that did one day without asking and I went along with it simply because I was caught off-guard and didn’t know how to handle telling them he wasn’t real without making their grandparents look like liars.

    I’m thinking this year may be when I have this talk with them. I can tell they both may be ready soon. I have a 6 month old also but I’m not going to try to have the older boys “help” be Santa for him. I think we’ll just transform Christmas into a time of year when we all can become Santa for the whole season (or all year really). I think it has the potential to be so much more magical of a season when we all get to work together to spread some goodwill to others and be “secret Santas” to those in need.

  • Megan W

    I don’t really remember when I stopped believing in Santa. I remember wondering, when I was about 6 or 7, why Santa had handwriting suspiciously similar to my dad’s in the notes he leaves my sister and I on Christmas morning. Years went by, and though I knew he wasn’t real, I think I just wanted to believe it, even if the idea was pretty far fetched. I think the year that Christmas lost most of it’s magic for me was when I was 12 and developed anorexia. I had been in treatment since early summer, and didn’t really have much to celebrate considering I was doing pretty poorly. I no longer believed in Santa, but all the magic and excitement had been kinda sucked out of the season that year. I am now 16, and this is the first year I will be spending Christmas at home in three years. My little sister still puts out cookies and milk for Santa, she is 11. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t still believe in Santa, but if she does, hey more power to her. In our house the rule has always been “If you don’t believe you don’t recieve” I liked what this post was saying about how though Santa is not a real person, the spirit he brings is a very powerful one, and can inspire amazing things. As for the comments that say they no longer celebrate Christmas or get gifts, that is crap. I think that the season is nice because it can bring people together and help us be a little cheerier in a world with so little joy.

  • Emie

    I’m 21 years old and this is the first year my parents haven’t pretended Santa came; my little sister is 18. I think we’ve basically known for a good chunk of our lives that Santa wasn’t real because most kids just figure it out at some point, but my parents have insisted that he is. Even this year, I told my mom what I wanted and she told me she would “tell Santa.” That has really kept the joy and magic of Christmas alive! My other sister is 24 and her and I have STILL not figured out where the presents were hidden all those years that Santa came. Even if your kids figure out that Santa isn’t real, parents can still keep the magic and wonder of Christmas alive. This article is a great suggestion to help kids not be disappointed, but just because they figure it out doesn’t mean the magic has to be over for them. Christmas is about believing in the things you can’t see, so keep the magic alive for your kids!

  • fat man in a red suit

    But…Santa IS REAL! I am a 60 year old man who plays the fat man in the red suit every holiday season. Private visits to friends houses… church youth group fund raisers (“Breakfast with Santa”), Local fire Department visits to under privleged kids in town… Visits to kindergarten classes during the holiday parties… even a few paying gigs at local restaurants – “Dinner with Santa” type stuff. It’s my absolute favorite thing to do. I’ve invested hundreds and hundreds of dollars in a quality suit and accessories – “authenticity” is important to me.

    Experience the magic of Christmas in the eyes of a child while they sit on your red suited lap, telling you what they want for christmas, and you will see what I mean. The joy is tangible. The looks on the faces of parents is uplifting. And bringing that sort of joy to a family is most delightful.

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