The Santa Conversation

By: Dr Justin Coulson

Christmas time is here, a time when our children talk about all the things that Santa will bring them.

Santa is an integral part of our Christmas tradition. Stories are concocted to convince kids that Santa will only come if they’re nice (and not naughty). Children are dosed liberally with bribes to behave! And the magic of Christmas is wrapped up and presented in a Santa myth with a perfect red and gold bow.

But do we need to lie to our children about Santa? What would it look like if we chose to be honest about Santa’s (non) existence? Is it even possible to have fun at Christmastime without perpetuating the Santa myth? Where’s the magic?

I think we can make Christmas magic and be honest about Santa (when our children are old enough to ask). Here’s why I think it’s important:

A recent study[1] by a University in Singapore suggests that children experience detrimental side effects when their parents lie to them.

Nearly 400 young adults were questioned about whether adults from their childhood lied to them when they were young, and how much they in turn lie to their parents now. Participants were also asked about how well they adjusted to challenges over their adult life.

Unsurprisingly, those within the study who were lied to more as children were more likely to report similar lying to their parents as they grew up. And these participants faced greater difficulty in meeting psychosocial challenges within everyday life, and reported experiencing conduct difficulties, guilt, and shame as well as selfish and manipulative character tendencies as adults.

The bottom line from this research is: children learn how to lie through observation. We as adults are our children’s greatest role models. If we are telling them lies, it’s easy to understand that they’ll grow up to copy this behaviour themselves.

So why shouldn’t we lie to our kids about Santa?

  1. Because when we lie to our kids about Santa, we are automatically assuming that our children don’t deserve the same level of respect or trust as any other adult. We’re actually speaking down to them. It’s patronising.
  2. It’s just a ‘white lie’, but it’s still a lie. We don’t accept dishonesty from our children. Why should we allow a double-standard?
  3. Once they work it out, they may wonder what else we will lie to them about.
  4. Because lying about Santa perpetuates the idea that only “good” children get presents at Christmas. On the contrary, what actually happens in real life is our children make mistakes because that’s how learning happens, but this doesn’t make our children “bad” or any less worthy of joy at Christmastime – it just makes them kids.

I’m not saying we ought to burst our children’s bubble and take away the magic of Christmas, but there’s more than one way to enjoy the festive season that doesn’t involve lying to our children and having them convinced that an overweight, elderly gentleman somehow breaks into their house and squeezes down a chimney,  leaving them presents that they have coincidentally requested.

So how can we have fun at Christmas as a family, without perpetuating the Santa myth?

Christmas can still feel magic – even when you know Santa isn’t real.

In our home, parents give the awesome present. But ‘Santa’ still comes and fills stockings with treats. He also leaves behind a gift or two as a surprise. The children know Santa isn’t real, but they still enjoy the thrill of receiving gifts and surprises. The tradition – and the magic – continue.

The truth is that the real magic of Christmas isn’t so much about the jolly fat man in red. The real magic of Christmas is about time together. It’s about giving to others. It’s about connection and not a pile of the latest overpriced fad toys which will almost certainly be discarded within a month.

For those with a faith background, the magic of Christmas revolves around the praise and worship of God, born as a babe in Bethlehem stable.

Creating special rituals and traditions together as a family build that magical, special Christmas feeling. It might be putting up the tree, looking at the lights, or contributing hampers or service to those less fortunate. In fact, more than anything, the magic of Christmas has little to do with what our children “get” from Santa. It isn’t about what our children (or we) “get” at all. It’s about what we give. And the more we give, the more magic we feel.

Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.

About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.

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