Growing YearsShould you teach your child to believe in Santa? Nickelodeon Parents Connect asked in a poll, “Do you let your kids believe in Santa Claus?” 65% answered, “Of course! It’s a magical part of childhood. What’s the harm?” 13% answered, “No. I think Christmas should be about Jesus, not Santa.” 10% answered, “Yes, although I’m not so crazy about the whole idea of lying to them. It’s just hard not to go along with it.” 4% answered, “We don’t celebrate Christmas.” 8% answered, “What? Are you trying to tell me there’s no such thing as Santa?” Each year, millions of children eagerly anticipate the jolly old man’s magical trip around the world. But, is it harmful to teach a lie?

In an article by Dulce Zamora (, studies were reported from the United States and Canada suggesting that virtually all children know about Santa Claus, even if they do not view him as a real person. A significant percentage of believers discovered the truth behind the tale around age 7. Only half of kids aged 8 to 11 reported believing in Santa. When they did find out the truth, most of them reacted in a positive manner. Two out of three kids said they felt a sense of pride in figuring out the truth about Santa Claus. Half of them said that although the jolly guy was not real, they liked the idea of him. Benjamin Siegel, MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at the Boston University Medical School says, the way children experience Santa depends on how he is represented to them. “If Santa Claus represents someone who is nurturing, good, thoughtful, and generous … then it’s a joyful (experience).” On the other hand, parents who strongly believe they are betraying their children’s trust by sharing the Santa Claus tale, probably do not need to tell them the story, says Robert Feldman, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who has conducted extensive research on lying and deception.

Giving a nod to participating in the fantasy, Carolyn Sarni, PhD, a developmental psychologist and professor of counseling at Sonoma State University in California says, “In all ages, a good imagination is important, but it’s crucial for very young children. They simply cannot do without a good fantasy life. Play is central to cognitive development. You can master the world through your ability to manipulate things in fantasy. Play allows you to kind of practice what you would do in the real world.” Tasha Howe, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., says parents can use fantasy to encourage children’s critical and independent thinking. When children ask questions related to Santa Claus, such as “Is there really a Santa Claus?” or “How do reindeer fly?” she suggests encouraging little ones to come up with their own explanations. Howe also says there is no scientific research indicating the Santa tale can be helpful or harmful to kids. So when parents ask her whether or not they should promote the Santa tale, she simply responds, “It’s a personal choice. Whatever choice you make, I don’t think it’s going to harm your child.”

The polls and experts seem to imply that more families than not participate in the Santa fantasy. Age 7-11 are ages when most children discover the truth. It is also the time to lead your child to the truth as questions arise. When questioned, it is better to allow him/her to find their own answer (“What do you think?”). Fantasy is important to cognitive development, and there is no research to indicate harm or benefit to a child. In fact, it is totally up to you to decide what is right for your family. If you choose not to participate in Santa, tell your child not to share the information with other children. So, to answer the question, Should you teach your child to believe in Santa or not? It’s a personal choice!