Parents love to see the delight their children experience with magical figures such as Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. It’s a wonderful part of childhood for children and adults who choose to participate. Some worry that when their children find out the truth, they will be extremely disappointed, or will feel that their parents lied to them.
Often, children figure it out, recognizing a parent’s handwriting on the gifts from Santa. Sometimes they hear the truth at school. Many continue to pretend to their parents that they still believe in the magic so the goodies keep coming.
By the time most children figure it out, or find out, they are old enough to handle the reality.
If a child asks if these figures are real, they have already suspected they are not. They know that Santa won’t fit down the chimney, and the Easter Bunny cannot take eggs to all the children in the world.
If they ask the question, say “what do you think?” If they share their doubts, then it is time to have the conversation.
We can tell them that they are imaginary — that means they are not real beings, but are nice ideas and traditions we can pass on so children will have fun and get excited. You can use one of their favorite characters as an example. You might dress up as one for Halloween because it’s fun, but you know they’re only an idea and not real.
Explain that these childhood myths are a tradition and are like a pretend game that parents have played for longer than we can remember, like a play. If they play video games, point out that the people in those games are not real, but we pretend they are real because it is fun to do that.
We can tell children that Santa represents loving, caring, generosity and selflessly giving to others. We can all be like Santa, making donations for those less fortunate. Make that a part of your Christmas season, if not an ongoing process through the year. At Easter we celebrate the coming of spring. It is a time to share the love we have with our family and friends. You may choose to talk about the religious aspects of the holidays you celebrate instead, or dive into the history of the holidays you celebrate to help explain where the myths came from.
The Tooth Fairy is a way of celebrating our growth and development. We lose a baby tooth to make room for the adult tooth growing beneath it. All change is a release of the old and a movement into the new. We are ever growing, ever changing, and the Tooth Fairy is a symbol of that. You can take this time to explain symbols.
Remember, there are no right or wrong ways to handle the issue of imaginary figures. The most important thing for parents to know is that however they decide to handle it, that’s okay. No one has the right to tell a parent how they should parent. You don’t have to defend your choices to anyone.
Try not to worry too much. Rigid rules about how to or how not to break the news will create a lot of stress and tension and rob joy from each holiday. Childhood is for fun and imagination. To equate believing in these magical beings with lying to their children seems a heavy burden for parents to put on themselves!
We likely all went through the transition from believing in fantasy and growing into the truth.
Here’s a comfort – I have never had an adult client ask me to treat them for the trauma of finding out that Santa wasn’t real and had parents who acted like he was!
Gwen is an author and award-winning psychologist. To obtain books, CDs, or MP3s, visit gwen.ca. For daily inspiration, follow Gwen at facebook.com/GwenRandallYoung.
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