Christmas is a magical time of year, especially for children. Unfortunately, between elaborate Elf on the Shelf staging and fending off questions about Santa, parents are often left wondering how much of the magic depends on them.
Specifically, many parents worry about whether they should encourage their children’s belief in the physical reality of Santa, about the potential impact of lying to them and what to do when their children realize they’ve been duped.
Rest assured, parents, it’s not all up to you. In fact, the best approach involves supporting your kids while they figure it out on their own. They will, and it won’t be as bad as you expect.
Research in the field of developmental psychology suggests that such fantastical beliefs are not actually harmful, but are associated with a number of positive developmental outcomes — from exercising the “counterfactual reasoning skills” needed for human innovation to boosting emotional development.
Should you bust the myth?
Recognizing these challenging questions for what they are — cognitive development in action — may free some parents from the burden of belief.
If your goal is to extend your child’s belief in the physical reality of Santa, you can respond to the questions with plausible explanations or evidence.
This is where NORAD, the online tracker that shows Santa’s progress around the globe on Christmas Eve, can come in handy.
If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: “I don’t know, how do you think the sleigh flies?”
Finally, if you think it’s time to usher your child into the common adult understanding of Santa as a beloved fantasy figure, you can provide different, disconfirming evidence and explanations.
My Santa myth was busted shortly after the discovery of Santa’s gift tags in my mother’s robe pocket.
Regardless of which strategy you choose, it is inevitable that eventually the evidence against Santa will become overwhelming and the belief will become unsustainable.
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