87

So I personally dislike the idea of Santa. Although the Siberian Santa Claws and Turkish Saint Nicholas origins are very cool, I find then contemporary concept of Santa is the antithesis of 'Christmas Spirit'; Santa now seems to represent consumerism, greed, and ways to scare or manipulate children into behaving. Not things like: giving, coming together, good will to all, and Christmas cheer.

You may feel otherwise and that is fine with me (to be honest I wish I could too).

So my 4-year-old has started believing that Santa is going to bring them presents for Christmas. Something they have picked up from (pre-)school no doubt.

I would like to explain to them that Santa is not real and it is mommy and daddy who go out and find you a special gift(s) for Christmas. And that giving is just as important and fulfilling as receiving gifts.

However I don't want the teachers at (pre-)school (who are wonderful) to have to deal with the fallout (and nuclear winter) of that truth being revealed to the other children.

So in summary:

How do I tell my child that they have been lied to, Santa is not real, but other children do think Santa is real and that is ok (don't start a fight with them about it)?

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    Great question. I hope I see answers that I can extend to any belief system / life style choice in which my child differs from the rest of the crowd - vegetarian/vegan-ism, or believing in god or religious practices. I've seen kids who've been told by their parents that eating meat is bad, make disgusted faces when those around them eat meat. That is not very polite. – learner101 Dec 9 '19 at 11:59
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    I have always thought that the idea of Santa, is for the benefit of parents - not children. And that is, to learn the joy of gift giving without the expectation of anything (not even recognition) in return. To insist on telling children early, the truth of where their gifts come from, is to deprive yourself of this important lesson. – Glen Yates Dec 10 '19 at 16:42
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    I told my kids Santa wasn't real, and they basically just refused to believe me... :D – Chris Sunami Dec 10 '19 at 17:47
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    "How do I tell my child that they have been lied to, Santa is not real, and it is not okay that they were lied to or that they believe this lie; but, simultaneously, tell them that other children do think Santa is real and that it is ok for them to be lied to and believe in lies, because it's more important not to have arguments than to know what's true?" – Andrew Dec 10 '19 at 21:54
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    (Literally) believing in Santa is naive. Pedantically pointing out that Santa is "not real" is equally naive. Humans have to instinctively understand the difference between physical reality, story telling, religious thought, "laws" rofl, local social norms, realistic fiction, "kids" fantastical fiction, sports, wars and so on. – Fattie Dec 11 '19 at 16:14

13 Answers 13

55

The approach we use, with our children, is to focus on understanding the reasons for belief, and the benefits of believing in something even if it's not real.

Our oldest never really believed, and I didn't want to push a belief with falsehoods; by 4 he'd figured things out, particularly at his Montessori preschool with older children having intelligent conversations on the matter. So when the discussion came up with his friend group, we told him about the history of Santa Claus, and used it as a good time to discuss why people believe in things - whether Santa Claus, religions, myths, or other things that either they know not to be true (in the case of Santa) or don't know definitively to be true (in the case of religion).

We talked about how it's important for some people to believe in things greater than what they can see, for various reasons - either because they're unhappy and need that belief to have a reason for hope, or because it ties a group together culturally, or because it helps people understand things that are important even if they don't understand "why".

To me Santa is a great template to discuss religion with, for the non-religious (or for those who may be religious but want to discuss religion in a broader sense). It's not exactly the same, of course, but a lot of the philosophy underpinning each are similar, especially when distilled to an (intelligent) five-year-old's level.

We also talked about respecting others' beliefs and not challenging them, whether we agree with them or not, simply because it is not polite or nice, and not productive to do so (with beliefs that don't affect us, anyway). This also has other applications - even something as simple as not telling people that you don't like their hairstyle or clothing, for example, as nothing good comes of it, it doesn't make a difference to you, and it will be hurtful to the person you say it to. A longer version of "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," basically. We pointed out that mentioning "Santa is not real" would make other kids feel bad, and that seemed to work - at least, no parents complained otherwise, and the teachers didn't have to send a note home.

Edit: Here are some resources that I find particularly helpful.

  • From psychology central, a reminder that different ages will have different levels of social abilities to process and use this information socially.

    Consider the age and stage of your child. A 10-year-old who still believes unequivocally that there is a real Santa will be at a clear disadvantage on the playground where most of the other kids don’t. A 4-year-old who insists there isn’t a Santa may well become the focus of sandbox hostility (and you the recipient of phone calls from their very annoyed parents). For 3 to 6 year olds, the world of imagination, including Santa’s North Pole, is an important place to visit. For older children, reconciling story and reality is part of growing up. There’s no definite age for the transition. It’s up to us to know our children well enough to sense where they are on that continuum.

  • This Lifehacker post which mirrors what a friend of mine told me she did just this morning (unrelated to this post!) - make them a santa! This works particularly well for older siblings, as they are then "in on the secret" and will help work with younger siblings (though I understand in your specific case, OP, this isn't desirable, it's highly applicable to others I think).

    One suggestion that has made the holiday internet rounds in recent years takes it a step further: Get your kids in on the action, too. That’s what one person suggested in this viral Facebook post, which appears to have been originally written by Leslie Rush: Now that you’re old enough, you can become a Santa.

  • From this HappyFamily post, the reminder that Santa is basically a game - and a fun one to play - and telling your kids that is a good way to bridge the gap.

    The fun of Santa is playing the “Santa game”: writing a letter to Santa, leaving out cookies and milk, having the gifts appear magically overnight! You can still play the “Santa game” (I did and I still do!) and have all the magic of Christmas without lying to your kids. Kids can handle the duality of knowing that Santa is/isn’t real all at the same time. They will still believe in magic! You won’t be taking anything away from them.

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    @PascalVKooten What in particular do you disagree with? What kind of relevant ability do you imagine a 4 year old lacking? – Luaan Dec 10 '19 at 10:34
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    @PascalVKooten Are you trying to say 4 year olds are incapable of understanding deception? Or self-deception? Or wishful thinking? Or wishes in general? What's the missing part? And why do you think 4 year olds lack that ability? – Luaan Dec 10 '19 at 11:53
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    @PascalVKooten All I can say to that is: I’d encourage you to get to know some four year olds if you believe that. – Joe Dec 10 '19 at 13:23
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    @PascalVKooten I have a kid. I have had very similar conversations with him when he was 4. Children absolutely can understand the concepts you feel are too complex for them, if explained to them with patience. It helps to provide examples they can relate to. – Beofett Dec 10 '19 at 16:24
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    I think this is within scope for a four year old. Young ones are capable of thought that is more complex than their expression. I was able to explain my two year old the possibility to forgive a classmate who had bitten him several times in the past. (The other child was going through some things at the time... He is actively trying, as much as a 30 month old can... to be nicer to his classmates now, but my son had shunned his company.) My son came home a couple days after we had the conversation and told me, "[Other child] not bite me now. [Other child] is my friend!" With a beaming smile. – Meg Dec 10 '19 at 20:40
30

We have explained Santa as a dress-up game that is played at Christmas. So far there hasn't been any conflict about it - after all, children of this age are often quite immersed in all kinds of play. So "revealing santa" is not any different from going to other children pointing out that their doll is not a real baby or that the motor noises come from their mouth and not their car. Most children wouldn't do that either, as it is more fun to be in the play than to spoil it.

I wouldn't make it a general lesson about faith and religion, but that is just a matter of opinion. Around where I live, very few people take Santa religiously - it's more just about consumerism and gifts. Mixing that with religious belief would just add confusion.

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    I think one important element you miss is you need to frame it in such a way that the child knows they should not question or challenge the belief of others. – JPhi1618 Dec 9 '19 at 19:14
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    @JPhi1618 My point is more that it hasn't even been a problem for us - of course every child is different, but going around challenging other kid's imaginations is not a thing most children do. In my opinion, explaining that some kids really really believe Santa is real and that you shouldn't tell them he's not would just create the temptation to tell. – jpa Dec 10 '19 at 8:00
  • I find this a brilliant idea – PascalVKooten Dec 10 '19 at 12:53
  • This was a great answer until the last 2 sentences. I actually upvoted just before reading the last 2 sentences then had to immediately click again to retract it. If that's your opinion then so be it, but I see just the opposite (ardent faith in an all-seeing, all-knowing judge who rewards the righteous and shames the naughty) so I just can't +1 for that. Good answer as far as your main point is concerned though. – Aaron Dec 10 '19 at 14:38
  • @Aaron Hmm yeah, I guess that will vary a lot. I rephrased the last paragraph. Like in the question, around here I see Santa being more about consumerism than any higher virtues nowadays, but it's great if that's not the case everywhere! – jpa Dec 10 '19 at 20:19
15

I pretty much told my daughter as soon as she was old enough to realize what Santa even was that it's a fun make believe thing, but it's not real. I also told her that a lot of other kids in school think it is real and that she shouldn't tell them. I did the same with all the other holiday characters, the religious stuff, and mythical stuff. For the most part, she had no issues with it and she quickly understood that it was all just fun make-believe. The only one she had a problem with was when she found out unicorns weren't real. She had a huge melt down.

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    Interesting point about unicorns. No reason they couldn't be real. – JollyJoker Dec 10 '19 at 8:51
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    At the age of 3 my son asked me with a serious face if race-cars were real - makes sense as he only knew them from cartoons. – Ivana Dec 10 '19 at 9:21
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    @JollyJoker There is about as much evidence for unicorns as there are for Santa or god. – MakPo Dec 10 '19 at 23:25
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    @curiousdannii - I think the decision of whether or not to tell your kids should be left up to the parents and not some random kid at school; I don't want to cause un-needed drama with the other parents; and most of all, because I want to instill a live-and-let-live mind set in my daughter. – MakPo Dec 11 '19 at 0:56
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    @curiousdannii - It really depends on the situation. If someone is being a target of bullying of any type and my daughter can intervene without putting herself in harms way, I would hope that she would do so or get someone with more authority to step in. But where the line between helping someone in need and activism isn't one I can draw for her. She needs to find it herself. And activism itself isn't an issue, but when you become the bully with your activism, then I have an issue with it. – MakPo Dec 11 '19 at 1:30
8

My parent's approached this in the following way:

They told me that Father Christmas/Santa was a game that we play around Christmas time. We pretend that Father Christmas is coming to give us presents, riding his magic sleigh pulled by magic reindeer. And part of this make-believe is leaving out mince pies for Father Christmas, writing letters to him and telling people dressed up like him what we want for Christmas.

As a result, I ended up doing everything all the other kids were doing, and I enjoyed it all just as much - with the exception that I never believed in Father Christmas, to me it was always "just a game" and a fun one at that.

If you take the same approach, you never have to tell your 4 year-old that teachers have been lying, they are just playing the game as well. Your kid can join in on all the Christmas-y stuff they want to, you don't have to tell lies to your child and there will never be any future disappointments that "Santa isn't real" etc.

6

Children can accept things like Santa as a part of their children’s world and know from decent hints that it is a fictional character (like other characters e.g. from stories or books) as soon as they are maybe 3 or 4 years old. There is no point in explicitly teaching them that Santa is not real. (Whenever I thought something explicitly to my kids - „this bright object on the sky is not a star but a planet called Jupiter“ - my little smartypants would tell it to a friend as soon as they could.)

When you are not happy with what Santa represents nowadays, provide them with a better Santa, tell your kids what consumerism, greed and manipulation is about and especially live by example.

Santa, like other Christmas tales and traditions, is just taken hostage by what Christmas is mostly about today. It’s not intrinsically bad.

4

I've never let my kids believe in Santa, largely because I don't want them to think there's some mystical man bringing them gifts for "being good", when their loving family members are the real source instead. Yes, there's always The Polar Express and the need to believe and all that, but the underlying ideas here are generosity, community and family.

That having been said, we still do the Tooth Fairy. They all know there's no such thing, but we pretend for the sake of fun. My wife has this mandate she tells them

When it stops being fun, we'll stop doing it

Thus, my kids play along for the sake of fun and nothing else. When people have beliefs like Santa and such, this leaves room to say that it's part of the fun they share. Thus my kids know not to knock others' beliefs in Santa down.

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    But if it's good for your family for the children to understand that their loving parents give them gifts, why is it not also good for other families? Why can't your children help their children learn that? Why phrase it in negative terms (knock down others' beliefs) rather than positive terms like everyone learning together? – curiousdannii Dec 11 '19 at 0:00
  • @curiousdannii I think you missed the point, so let me reiterate: When it stops being fun, we'll stop doing it. It's absolutely a negative to "knock someone else's fun down". There's always the know-it-alls out there. The folks who take some secret delight in stamping out some esoteric belief. That's what belief in Santa has become. It's a belief in something we know to not be true, yet it creates wonder in a child's eye. To dim that sparkle isn't just negative, it's a sin. So Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus – Machavity Dec 11 '19 at 0:13
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    That's nonsense, you can have just as much wonder and sparkle with loving family Santa-less Christmases. More in fact. You're increasing their fun by letting them appreciate their family more. – curiousdannii Dec 11 '19 at 0:14
3

I think you should take a relaxed, agnostic approach - say, "I don't think he is real, what do you think?", and then talk about how different people believe different things, and emphasize that this is perfectly OK. When parents keep insisting to their youngest, that he is real, there will inevitably come a time when will realize that you have lied, and it will have an impact on their trust.

Children are, in my experience, quite tolerant about whether these things are absolutely true - remember, play and imagination are very important at that age, so most children are perfectly happy to imagine that something is real, while at the same time knowing that it isn't. So instead of "Yes! It Really Is True!", you can go along with it as a lovely story that we all enjoy taking part in.

3

My wife had a great idea. We have a 3 year old and a 20 month old. We're planning to tell them about Saint Nicholas, and tell them that while Santa Claus is not St. Nicholas, he's the way people remember the good that St. Nicholas did. And people give gifts to each other in the name of Santa Claus to try to be more giving and generous.

Our children could still "ruin" Santa Claus for other kids, but we're not quite agreed on how to prevent that. I suspect it'll be fine, but she thinks they might tell other children "My mommy gave me gifts in the name of Santa Claus" or something like that.

3

First off, congratulations on seeing through the lunacy that has become of a celebration surrounding a man who had no real earthly posessions and encouraged others to ignore the meaninglessness of the passing world around them...

Apart from that, you may want to consider what your own definition of the word "lie" is. I personally don't care if someone decides to lie to me for some reason that might make life easier to deal with, but that's just me.

To elaborate a little more, I don't consider whatever story you make up to be a lie as much as an exercise in story telling, no different than Jack and the Beanstalk. How does one explain a guy who breaks into your house and reverse steals a bunch of consumerist objects for what seems to be little reason apart from an odd necessity to be fully aware of the behavior of select people on the planet? But there's no reason you can't approach the rampant lies as something closer to speculation and inquisition. Ultimately if you phrase your questions and statements well you can maintain an open dialog with children that neither supports nor denies the claim that this phantom is real, but instead allows them to ponder their own explanations without forming an opinion from the influence of others strictly. That is to say, without your input.

My children are a comical example of this notion in action. I have always asked them to explain or draw what they believe to be happening when these holidays come and go. Their explanations are just as strange as the origins of the holidays themselves. Once I heard them talking to each other speculating what the tooth fairy could be. My younger was 5 at the time. She said it must be a ghost hand that comes out of the wall and eats your teeth. They said Santa breaks your door down and presents spill out of his bag while he tries to steal your cookies and drinks. I think I planted the idea that he might burn your tree down if we don't leave out an offering for his unquenchable thirst. Either way they always laugh about it and in the lines in between I have given them an idea or two about how the holidays once meant something else but complete inexcusable greed and vile corruption has transformed a notion into an excuse to rampage malls, demand unnecessary objects, and disguise the world's painful self absorption behind a rancid mask of holiday cheer and decorations. And that they can participate if they want. They like Christmas trees. I hate Christmas trees. But I get them one so they can do as they please with it, and make up any story they want to explain why we insist on hoarding so much when so many have so little. The results have been pretty positive. I don't think they have ever had a tantrum... well, at all, but especially not over "things."

Unconventional as it may be, my cynical approach to everything that brings arbitrary joy to people has gone over without incident in schools, with friends, and continues even now as they approach the age of rebellion. I have no idea if it's like bottled up abuse that may backfire some day but I have doubts about the backlash of this approach. I have so far seen nothing but sanity come from it.

It might be worth mentioning I have always warned them that every conceivable thing in the world around them is somebody's scam. The good, the kind, and the truly altruistic are outliers in the standard deviation. They are there, but do not assume they are easy to encounter. See the scam in everything and question "why" before acting. Otherwise you may learn why before it is too late. I point out billboards, signs, ads, commercials on TV, products in stores, etc, and ask them to tell me what they think the goal behind these things are. Sometimes they conclude some aren't a scam. Most they conclude are. It's those exercises that give them the rationale that allows them to maintain an imagination and joy in discovery and the world and people around them when they make the connection that stories like Santa, the Easter Bunny, and at the risk of having my account downvoted straight off of this site, every religion ever conceived, is now and has always been a work of someone's imagination. Not all of them have origins in scams, but no doubt, those who truly know desperation or hunger will have no remorse in converting a humanitarian concept into a way to profit for themselves... and to tie it back into Christmas and Santa, the one thing Jesus ever lost his feces over was people profiting from the worship of his father. Go figure the celebration of his birth became one of the greatest slaps in his face where everything about him was removed except people profiting from him.

Not to get too distracted though. The general idea is that you can neutralize the controversy by removing the definitive and maintaining a stance of speculation. After all, the entire hope of humanity rests on the crudest of questions: What if?

3

"while respecting other kids beliefs?"

I disagree with this part of your title. I have always believed that children should be brought up to be respectful that people can have differing opinions; but opinions should not be respected; as it's basically suggesting that they shouldn't be challenged.

I would highlight that the separation of person and opinion and truth is essential, and many adults fail to do it; and your title suggests you may fall into this group. A person will have an opinion about a topic - it may or may not be true; but their opinion about the next topic is independent on the last opinion.

As such - there's nothing wrong with encouraging your child to ask for evidence when presented with claims... and there's no harm in teaching them to reject claims that fail to provide the evidence; but irrespective of this - their opinion about the next topic should be considered independently.

2

I have a two year old and this year is the first real year that we need to figure out how to confront this; the "Santa game" approach of a few other posters sounds like a good approach that I may try.

An intermediate path that my parents took, which may not be how the OP wants to approach it but may be a good solution other parents, was to downplay the role Santa played in Christmas. We each got a stocking with a few pieces of candy and a few small presents (think of things the size and cost of a slinky or small doll). The big presents all came from my parents themselves. As kids we were allowed to open our stockings on our own, before our parents came down - which had the added benefit to our parents of getting an extra 30 minutes or more of time before they had to get out of bed!

2

This has become quite long and wordy; sorry, I don't think I can trim much without losing the important parts. The section headings can serve as a TL;DR for each section.

For many people, it's not just a game or simply pretend; for many, it's a lie

Multiple answers here suggest you say it's pretend or a game that everyone is in on. The problem is this simply is not true and is yet another lie.

Telling someone a statement in order to deceive them is a lie, especially if you believe the statement to be false. That is exactly what many families do. I have heard the excuses, that it's done to help their child's imagination and creativity or that it somehow makes them a better person. That doesn't change the fact it's a deception, a bold lie.

Countless parents insist the modern Santa thing is true: Santa, elves, flying reindeer, giving gifts all around the world that night, that some of the gifts under the tree are from him - all of it. This often comes from parents who do not personally believe any of it, so it is strictly a lie and not just a game for them.

I have talked to multiple parents who have participated in the lie whose children were emotionally devastated when they found out their parents were lying to them, typically very depressed or outraged at the parents. Most instances I have seen merely result in the children being annoyed for a while and nothing more, but I have seen enough instances of long term emotional problems to believe that this lie is not only bad for being a lie, but that it is potentially dangerous as well.

In one case the relationship between a father and son was irreparably damaged for years. The young man refused to deal with his father respectfully for a long time, and to this day the relationship is still damaged. Not by the loss of the fantasy, rather the young man felt utterly betrayed by being lied to for years by the person he trusted.

Do not underestimate the damage this lie can have emotionally or socially. Most come through fine, but there are plenty who do not.

Honesty is the best policy; just tell them

I have told all our children from the beginning the whole Santa package is a lie some parents tell their children. Also that they need to leave others alone about it, not bother those who believe. The worst problem we had was the awkwardness when our youngest children told others Santa is fake, or even tell them their parents are lying to them. Awkward, embarrassing, and sometimes arguments erupt.

When my children tell others, I remind mine saying "Remember what I said about leaving others alone about their beliefs. They can believe what they want, and you can believe what you want." Sometimes that would be met with "But we should tell the truth!" to which I respond "That is their parents job. They are not our children, it is not our place. You can talk to others about your personal beliefs, but do not push them onto other children, especially if that is not what their parents want."

One of our more clever children would respond yet again with "Yes it is their parents' place, but their parents are the ones lying and so aren't doing their job, we need to let them know their own parents are lying to them" - that one was the most difficult to deal with and required a careful discussion, but in the end our children realized the lie others were receiving and were good about it.

Those who pick up on things sooner only needed to be corrected once or twice about their over-stepping behavior, and those slower needed a few more times.

Here are some of the effects we have had from all this:

  • Our children respect us more for telling them the truth and also for helping them understand others' views and behaviors
  • Our children are more respectful to others about others' opposing beliefs
  • Our children understand that some beliefs are based on outright lies and that that is not OK
  • Our children understand that we don't know why someone else believes what they do (assuming they don't tell us), and that it is proper to not assume the worst (eg: that it's based on lies)
  • Our children understand better that different people believe different things, and that that is OK

Anecdote: My own experience with this

We tell ours what we believe to be the truth.

When one of my sons encounters other children speaking of Santa he rightly believes it probably based on lies. He gets annoyed, frustrated, and tells me he believes it a bad thing being done to them, but he tells them what he believes personally and he leaves it at that. I share his sentiments, and he behaves appropriately, so I consider it a job well done.

In our household, we celebrate Jesus birthday on Christmas. Ours know December 25th is likely not the day Jesus was actually born, and they know many others don't share our belief in Jesus. We do not put up a tree, we do not do Christmas gift exchange, and when extended family requests we bring our children over for Christmas presents we firmly refuse. We do allow "holiday presents" as long as they are not for Christmas day. Because of all this, it creates extra friction with others, so this Santa and Christmas-present thing is a yearly family battle for us.

This battle over Santa, Christmas trees, and presents is especially difficult with some of our pagan family members, especially the tree. We had this conversation with them yet again just a couple days ago. One said we don't celebrate Christmas which is nonsense. The irony is strong in my family.

We respect other parents' desires to bold-face-lie to their children, and we expect them to respect our desire to teach our children what we honestly believe in.

Our oldest tell people they don't care about Christmas gifts and they would rather spend time with family. Our oldest child remembers 1 or 2 Christmases early on celebrated with trees and gifts, and that one is the most adamant about family time instead of gift time.

It probably does help that we are fun; I read to them, play board games and video games (I always choose Pikachu in Super Smash ;) ), take walks, nerf battles, and "bushcrafting" (look it up) with them. We need to be parents yes, but we also need to be happy and have fun together.

As is hopefully evident by our lives, our way of doing things differently but having honesty and respect toward each other and to other families seems to have worked out well.

A Possible Negative Side Effect

The clever statement mentioned earlier from my oldest son brings up an excellent point to keep in mind. It may seem obvious to you or I, but this is important for the children to understand...

I believe lying to your children is bad. My oldest son believes the same. Worse, we believe this is a form of abuse - a minor form, but still abuse nonetheless. We don't intervene because it is not our place, just as I would not want others butting into my family's business.

As adults, we should be able to understand simply this minor abuse is not reportable or intervenable, as the abuse does not rise to that level. This is more difficult for children to understand.

I have dealt with abused children and children who are aware of ongoing abuse. A common problem has been children do not understand when it is OK or necessary to intervene and when it is not OK.

Telling children "Many parents are lying to their children. Yes, that is bad, but no we do not do anything" is often confusing to children and to them reinforces "bad things happening to me is ok." That is definitely NOT a thing that you want to reinforce in general, as it contributes to children not speaking up. One child, a victim of sexual abuse, told me she was used to adults telling her that she must simply accept everything an adult says or does, that she didn't know it was ok to do anything about what was happening to her, so she went along with her abuse even though she hated it. I think that speaks volumes to the danger of leaving children ignorant to the reality of abuse.

I have occasional conversations with my own children about what is abuse and what it is not, what to do, and about areas in the middle where people disagree and it is best to let other families handle it according to their belief.

That is, children need to know:

  • Non-damaging punishments, where applied proportional to the offense, are not abuse,
  • Damaging punishments that no reasonable person would believe are proportional to the offense often are abuse,
  • Anything in between is a grey area that they should discuss with trustworthy adults,
  • Other actions which either cause damage or which make you feel unreasonably uncomfortable might be abuse and should be discussed with trustworthy adults
  • That things in the middle might be considered abuse by 1 person but not by another, and sometimes it is best to let other families handle it according to their views instead of according to our own views.

These explanations to children often need to be accompanied by examples to help them understand the differences and the boundaries. For example...

  • Not abuse: 2-minute time-out for repeated mean behavior
  • Abuse: 5-hour time-out or spanking for breaking a minor rule the first time
  • Abuse: Shaking a child, inappropriate body touching (even outside the clothes), burning
  • Abuse: Yelling hollering cursing at children for all their offenses constantly and no matter how slight the offense

And more to the point at hand, things we consider abuse but not major enough to do anything about:

  • Lying to children, even about Santa

This is all stuff we need to talk to the children about. They need to understand that it's ok to let other families deal with their personal beliefs and we don't need to sound the alarms to let the world know a parent lied to their child (even though we personally consider it a form of mild abuse), but that they absolutely do need to sound the alarms when something objectively inappropriate happens, that they need to immediately let trustworthy adults know that someone is being shaken or inappropriately touched.

Abuse is much more rampant than most people realize. Don't let your good act of telling your children the truth about other families' lies turn into something bad by way of them keeping their mouth shut when adults are doing bad things to other children.

Summary

  • Don't tell your children it's just a game everyone is in on; that's another lie
  • Do tell your children what you honestly believe to be the truth
  • If you want your children to respect other families choice to lie, then tell yours that it's appropriate to leave other families to handle it their way
  • Make sure that "leaving other families to handle it their way" does not become "ignore the bad things others do to children" - reinforce the discussion about right vs. wrong and about when we should or should not mind other peoples' business
  • Have fun!

If you decide to still do a gift exchange, other answers' idea of making it a known game of pretend and imagination for your family sounds like a great way to handle it and which allows them to blend in with less issue.

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    I didn't read the whole thing - like you said, too wordy. But I subscribe that it is a lie and I teach that lying is just about the worst way to be mean to someone. So if I believe that, then how would they react when they found out I was lying? Another point is that some families can afford to give their children iPhones and such and if children believe that presents magically appear they might feel as though they didn't behave good enough to receive the expensive gifts like their more well-off peers. Worse, those more well-off peers could behave horribly and still get expensive presents. – Tracy Cramer Dec 10 '19 at 19:47
  • Your first section is great, the rest is weak. Teach your children to encourage everyone to question what they're taught and to seek to know and believe the truth. The earlier they can learn to respect people without feeling like they have to never speak out against lies the better. Yes it's their parents' responsibility to tell them the truth, not yours, but that doesn't mean that it isn't also your childrens' responsibility as peers of their children. – curiousdannii Dec 11 '19 at 0:06
  • @curiousdannii I do teach my children to encourage each other and others to question what they're taught and to seek to know and believe the truth. They can speak out about lies in general. "The rest is weak" is harsh given most of your comment does not contradict what I said. "also your childrens' responsibility as peers of their children" that part I can understand, and maybe that's true I'm not sure, but the reason for stopping my children from telling others that their parent are liars is merely to avoid arguments and fights between families - you might be right about this last bit though. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 19:33
  • The problem with this answer is it's just too long and goes off on tangents that aren't really relevant. The personal anecdote, talking about child abuse, etc. could be removed and it would improve the answer. Also, not making a distinction between different levels of lying is unrealistic. Total honesty is extremely harmful to social interaction. Knowing when NOT to tell the truth is an important skill. – barbecue Dec 11 '19 at 21:07
  • The personal anecdote is me explaining how my experience with this very issue has turned out; is that not desired on parenting.SE? Demonstration of personal experience with an issue is even required on some other SE's. The child abuse section is very relevant, and I explained why within it. Not sure what you mean by "not making a distinction between different levels of lying." Disagree about honesty being harmful - I've yet to see where that's true. "Knowing when no to tell the truth is important" - I agree on that point, and I made that point in my answer. – Aaron Dec 11 '19 at 21:18
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If you don't want to participate in the bizarre myth of the creepy morality stalker that is Santa, great! Not participating in Santa will probably help your children learn gratitude and also give them healthier expectations for presents (Santa has infinite resources, but most families have limited Christmas present budgets!)

I don't believe that there is any situation in which a parent must lie to their children. And from the anecdotes in other answers you can see that there are sometimes quite severe consequences when the child finds out their parent has been lying to them. You won't know how your child reacts when they discover you were lying to them, so why take the risk?

I also appreciate j4nd3r53n's approach of agnostic questioning: "I don't believe in Santa, what do you think?" Part of a parent's responsibility is to teach their children epistemology: how do we know what we know. We teach our children that they learn through what they have experienced themselves, and what others have experienced. We teach them the beginnings of science as they try things and see what happens. We teach them history as they listen to the stories of the older people in their lives. If you're religious then you teach your religion's book in the same way, as a record of the experiences of people long ago. Many children will be naturally curious why their birthday presents come from people, but Christmas presents come from Santa, especially if some of their Christmas presents have tags saying who gave them, or if they see their parents beaming at each other and giving each other hugs after they opened the presents that "Santa" gave them. You don't need to explicitly teach your children that Santa isn't real any more than you need to teach your children that some people think the world is flat; when they come across these concepts (for Santa it will probably be when they see someone dressed up as him in a shopping centre) then at those times you can start the epistemology process.

So what about other children? I think several other answers here underestimate the resilience of children. I wouldn't say anyone should direct their children to tell the other children Santa isn't real, they are capable of deciding for themselves if or when they want to say anything. The main thing to prepared for is to be ready to shield your children from the parents of other children who do want to participate in this myth. They may be angry, but you can take it, just don't expose your child to it. You may be able to explain that you have not instructed your children to go around spoiling the family traditions of others, but they are instead collectively discovering and sharing truths about the world.

I was not taught Santa at any stage, and had no negative outcomes when talking to other children about it. I'm not sure if my parents faced any anger from other parents; if they did they shielded me effectively. And so can you, if you so wish.

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