My 7-year old son treats Santa as a real person. He probably suspects something, but me and my wife always find a way to persuade him.

What is the normal age when children realize that Santa is not real, and what is the proper transition strategy?

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    What do you mean, "as a real person"? Isn't he?? ;-) Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 17:32
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    I never understood the purpose of teaching children that Santa Claus is a real person who flies around in a sleigh and brings presents on Christmas. If nothing else, it teaches kids that their parents are liars.
    – user808
    Commented May 10, 2011 at 15:08
  • 8
    I have always told my kids santa clause is pretend. I fear my children one day thinking "if mommy and daddy told me santa is real and he's not, what about Jesus?"
    – Fatmuemoo
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 22:17
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    How about a SPOILER ALERT!?
    – DA01
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 5:14
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    As for the Jesus comment, yes, this will start a flame war, but Santa is as real as Jesus in that they are both based on people that lived at one time who now have myths built up around them. Coincidently, at least near xmas, their myths deliver the same messages: be good and nice to each other.
    – DA01
    Commented Nov 29, 2011 at 5:16

15 Answers 15


From my own and others' experience, I'd say around 6-9 years of age is the time when they figure it out. Most will probably have a sneaking suspicion for a year or two, which they spend probing and observing. Isn't it odd that Dad always misses Santa because he's chatting with the neighbors just then, every year?

When he does figure it out, try to praise him for his observation skills and get him in a satisfied I knew it! state of mind rather than being sad about a myth debunked. It's actually cool that he figured it out all by himself!

And, if he has younger siblings, he's now in on a special secret that he can help the parents keep, and see how the siblings handle it.

Edit, 6½ years later: My son was 7 years old when he mentioned on the 24th,
"Do I still have to pretend Santa is real?" He was aware of the fairy-tale aura and considerate enough to ask while his younger brother couldn't hear him. We praised him for his smarts as well as for his consideration, and asked him to help us keep up the fun until his brother catches on, too, just because it's fun to pretend things. He happily agreed.


We've always taught our children that Santa is a game that people play, not something real -- it's important for us not to lie to our children. They still enjoy playing the game.

We also find that this helps when interacting with other children who very much believe in Santa -- encouraging our children not to spoil the game.

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    I constantly feel ill at ease about this very subject; on one hand, I really want them to have an imagination, and to think of fairies, santa and such like. On the other hand, I want my kids to grow up in a culture of truth, and trust. My wife struggles with this, as she never wants to lie to the kids, where I believe sometimes it's necessary. +1 for a very good point by the way.
    – Hairy
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 11:47
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    Just because they know fairies aren't real doesn't stop my children from having great fun pretending :). Commented May 12, 2011 at 14:41
  • Letting your kids in on the "secret" so that they don't spoil it for others is a good approach - but you didn't answer the question: when did you tell your kids, or when did they start asking? Commented May 26, 2011 at 7:03
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    @torbengb: We've always told them, from the first Christmas when they could understand Santa being there. Making a fun game out of it is a bonus (and it's a game that most adults in my family still enjoy), but it's being honest that motivated us. Commented May 31, 2011 at 13:51
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    I read about someone who would tell his kids "some people say Santa is a jolly fat man who..." so: he wouldn't be lying, the kids can play along with their peers and, at the end, the kid can figure it out for themselves. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 9:28

Answer -watch your kid. Every kid might need something different. You know your kids. Strangers don't.

On this don't lie to your kids thing ---Seriously? There is an age range where magical thinking is good for kids.

Santa? I figured out it didn't make sense when I was 4, though I didn't tell anyone and staged an elaborate catch the parents trap to obtain proof, y'know, just in case. My little brother didn't figure it out until he was 8.5. I don't know when my older brothers and sister figured it out because they faked it until my little brother caught on. (Strangely, I didn't figure out the tooth fairy until I was 8 and my brother never believed that one! The logistics bothered me less.)

None of us thought our parents were liars. Maybe if they tried to stretch it on past when we didn't believe... but I don't know. We thought it was cool that we could have played a game, and I look back with fond memories of believing.

I have never said to my daughter Santa is real, because I wasn't sure at first whether to because of what I heard others felt about it. I did a lot of reading on child development and the experts agree at ages 2-6 it's good for them (Upper age may vary by kids developmental stage). At two, she started asking about the images of Santa, and I asked What do you think? She had some great explanations and it is great fun. She has already at 3 wondered how Santa could visit every house, and it led us down a path of learning different Christmas traditions and who celebrates and who doesn't, and which regions celebrate Santa on a different day. She loves the fun of it and the challenge of thinking why. At 3 she has thought of some things that I never would have.

I never have told her monsters aren't real either; we just thought together on how to deal with them and the girl is fearless.

When she's old enough that her answers to how something happens isn't positive/magical and she doubts on her own, I won't push it, I will let her come to her conclusion. Forcing adult thinking on a child who needs to indulge a certain developmental part of themselves is just selfish and acting superior about it is ridiculous. I suspect it might happen before 6 for my daughter because she is extremely bright and inquisitive, but it will happen when it happens and I will not steal the fun away earlier.

Don't get me wrong, maybe some kids are better with it never being "real." You know your kid. You decide. But don't act like you know what every other kid needs, too.

My ex is an atheist and while he is going along with Santa because he remembered it fondly, he told her out right Jesus isn't real. She came home crying - not because I lied to her, but because she wanted to believe. (I am a Christian and I told her people can believe different things and there is nothing wrong with that, but to go with what she feels in her heart is true, and she is much happier) He thought his parents telling him about Jesus when it never made sense to him was this horrible thing, and it never occurred to him to watch his daughter instead of his own biases.

  • Oh, and I have done a few "helping" things like ordered a Santa letter from the North Pole, sign the presents she asked Santa for from Santa with different wrapping paper from those from us and hide that paper away - so I am definitely telling her Santa is real without saying "Santa is real" It's fun for her and I love having fun with her! Commented Dec 19, 2011 at 14:15

Don't lie to your child. Santa is a poor reason to ruin trust between you and your child. If your child is coming to you asking about santa being real, it's because they trust you and they want to know what the truth is.

You stand to gain NOTHING from lying to your son. Sit him down today and break the news to him, he'll trust you more when you're done.

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    You're not answering the question ("when?"). You could expand your "sooner than later" into something that could be an answer. Commented May 26, 2011 at 7:00
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    Well said, Jonathon. I think the answer could be paraphrased as, "Children stop believing in Santa Claus when their parents decide not to lie to them."
    – user808
    Commented Jul 12, 2011 at 16:34
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    This is a silly argument. My older son has figured out the truth about Santa, and doesn't trust me or my wife any less for "lying" to him all these years. All of us had a lot of fun with it over the years, and he understands that we kept it going because he and his little brother enjoyed Christmas even more because of it. Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 19:25
  • @DA01 I love that you picked this answer by this answerer to post your irreverent list of truth.
    – kleineg
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 20:03

It is important to promote a kid's imagination, help them not worry about what other people believe, and encourage self confidence and self esteem. I have told mine that all things cease to exist the moment they stop believing in it.

A lot of the kids at school tease my daughter for believing in Santa (she is 7.5), saying he doesn't exist. I told her that he did, if she wanted to believe in him. She's a bright kid, and I believe, picked up on this, and linked it to her belief in God (I am an atheist). I told her I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was 10, and then I stopped seeing him.

As an aside, I took her to Lapland last Xmas to see 'the real Santa Claus' in a log cabin, by a frozen lake. It was a magical, once in a lifetime trip. 'Santa' gave her a present and told her not to unwrap it. She then told me what she asked Santa for. I spent a long week finding it and wrapping it in the same paper. Seeing her face when she unwrapped the very present in the very same paper was magical. Although they were different sizes, she suggested if he was magical enough to fly around the world, he could have changed the present after he knew what she really wanted.

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    I really have to disagree with you in the strongest possible terms. The point of parenting is to raise children that can cope with and deal with reality. Something's existence is not conditional on anyone's belief and instilling that in a child is setting them up for disappointment and delusion. Commented Sep 3, 2011 at 6:01
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    I believe it is, sorry William, but the entire world of religion is built on the same idea; God's existence is entirely conditional on your bel;ief he/she exists. Sorry
    – Hairy
    Commented Sep 5, 2011 at 6:45
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    I'm not personally familiar with any religions that claim their deity only exists if you believe. I'm sure some must exist, but if you look at the largest 5-6, which give you about 75-80% of people, that belief is absent to my knowledge. Commented Sep 6, 2011 at 13:20
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    @Ricibob: And my (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) point is that I personally have more objective evidence for God's existence than for Ricibob's. But we're getting off-topic here.
    – Kramii
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 15:16
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    @Kramii "I personally have more objective evidence" is an oxymoron. If its personal it isn't objective (duh).
    – Ricibob
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 16:59

My brother is 10 years old, and he is in that (i don't think he's real, but i still want to get presents, so i say he is) stage. I myself found out when i was 11, My 2nd brother found out when he was 9, and the youngest is getting there. And for those who say "don't lie to your kids about santa, that makes them not trust you" please, keep that stuff to yourself. I am glad my parents made santa so believable. I honestly had no idea. But let your kids find out on their own. As long as you believe santa is real, then he will always be there, in your heart. :)


My parents always inspired us to spend all of December in a Christmas Spirit. We volunteered and gave away old toys. My mom tricked me by saying that the toys would be given to other kids, by Santa. If we wanted him to bring us great toys we had to take care of the old ones. If we ruined our toys he would bring us stuff other kids ruined. It did mean my stuff lasted longer though, so I am much better at taking care of my belongings today and I'm not a hoarder because I know it feels better to give something you've cared for away than to keep it even when you stop using it. The lies my parents told actually made me a much more creative person. I didn't grow up with my head in the clouds, though I visit up there and it's helped me so much with my career. So don't worry about 'should my child still believe...'

Everyone wants to treat their kids like tiny adults, even through the greatest inventors and creative minds say the best thing that ever happened was no one putting limitations in their minds. Kids want to believe they can fly to the stars in a cardboard box? What are you going to do? Tell them about physics and density and the atmosphere and what happens when all the chemicals we need to live are suddenly absent in a vacuum; or are you going to buy them a box? We would never have gotten to the moon if everyone had been told it wasn't possible.

So my best advice as a child who grew up and has been a part of over six thousand children's lives: Let them believe. It's fun for both sides and you're rarely going to encounter a kid who says 'my mom and dad LIED to me about Santa! I hate them for that." You are giving them presents after all. Almost 1/4th of the kids I work with say they knew Santa was not real around the age of 6 or 7 (a few knew at around the age of as early as 4 and as late as 9. Both groups seemed to be similar in development and intelligence, the difference was in their parents' ability to keep the fantasy going and how curious the kids were about meeting Santa) but kept pretending to believe because it got them toys and it was fun to kind of counter their parents. A sort of mine battle with their parents, where there was no fighting and no real winner or loser.

Parents: "Tell Santa what you want for Christmas." Child: "What?! He didn't get my letter?" Parents: Er... not yet. Tell him again. Child: Okay! I want the stuff I didn't get last year. You have your list, right?"

It's a fun game. For me, I respected my mom and dad more because of what they went through to keep the game going, and I saw them more as people rather than authority figures because it was a time when they would not tell me "Because I said so..." They couldn't just say Santa did something because they said so. They had to get creative about it and think up explanations that a child could understand. It was so much fun to hear their explanations!

"How do reindeer fly?" "The reindeer don't fly. They just control the direction. The sled and the straps are made of star dust, and you know how everything floats in space, right? The sleigh and even the reindeer's shoes are all made of stardust..." I can still see him trying to find a story a child would understand all the while he's actually a physicist who had to go back to work in 9 days and teach college Juniors and Seniors about how nothing he told me was true at all. My mom was an engineer though, and she came up with the most amazing explanations. She actually had me back on the fence of if I believed or not for awhile. My brother is autistic and he stopped believing at around 8 years old, be immediately teamed up with my parents. No hurt feelings or loss of trust. He's a smart kid, he just dissolves into his own world sometimes. Trying to keep the Santa myth alive was actually really good for him. He actually felt like an older brother and would talk more. It was amazing, actually. If someone tried to tell my sister or I that Santa wasn't real, my brother could often get his thoughts back into the real world and tell that kid to back off or get punched (my mom and dad are 5'11 and 6'3... my brother towered over everyone and he liked super heroes so he mimicked them sometimes.)

Have fun with it and your kids will do the same, but understand that around the age of 7 they usually know the truth. If you're creative enough to have them believe longer, then just keep playing! It's not like they'll get to 6th grade and still believe in Santa. You say your kids treat Santa like a real person, and that's fine. There is a chance that someone at their school will have parents who didn't teach their kids to respect the beliefs of others, and they'll be crying and ask you if Santa is real. Best thing to do is tell them about the real Santa and how it honors him to pretend and that is why many parents do that- to keep the memory of a great man alive. So is there an age? Yeah, 7-ish, but it's not a rule.


As for ages, I don't know. I figured out that Santa was my sister when I was four, I'm told. I don't think my younger siblings ever believed in Santa. So I have no experience in when kids in general figure it out.

As for transition, my answer to "Is Santa real?" will be: "Well, what do you think?" Teach the kids to think for themselves.

Then again, I don't see the point in lying to kids about Santa or the Tooth Fairy or anything else, so I suspect I'll have an easier transition, as I won't have lies to explain away. :) I guess a good explanation is that Santa is make belief and pretend, like dragons, and The Cat in a Hat, or when you play Colonialists and Indigenous Population.

  • 1
    Hold the phone. Santa was your sister? That's... a novel approach to the legend.
    – deworde
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 10:14
  • @deworde: I suspect the choice was highly limited. It's not like I had a brother. Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 14:55
  • Sure, but how long did they reckon they could keep that fiction going... Well, 2-4 years, apparently.
    – deworde
    Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 16:17
  • @deworde: It's not like you have any concept of what is going on at that age. I do remember that I recognized my sister on the shoes. Probably wouldn't have mattered who it was. And who says mum expected it to to work more than once? The year after we probably went to grandma and grandpa, and there would have been more options. I think you assume a lot of weird things here. :-) Commented Nov 28, 2011 at 17:30

When do Kids Stop Believing?

There is no right answer to this question. Kids will believe based on their experience, the evidence they've witnessed, and other factors like the testimony of their friends at school. Certainly there are different Christmas traditions (some outlined below) that will play into how long a child continues to believe.

I wouldn't worry if a child of any age continues to believe (although there is a point in which they will all figure it out).

In terms of how to handle the transition, I suggest opting this stance. When you tell your child that "Yes, Santa is Real" what you are really telling them as that "The Christmas Spirit is Real". Santa becomes a metaphor for all that is good about Christmas, sharing with family and friends, and celebrating the season together. Putting it in that context, you need never admit that Santa is not real on some level.

Just read this classic editorial if you never have, and then tell me that you don't believe yourself. From this perspective, I certainly do. And you can certainly show this piece to an older child, helping to share with them the true meaning of Santa, and at the same time encouraging them not to spoil the mystery for younger children.

Some Background On My Own Experience

I believed in Santa for a long time, maybe till I was 9 or 10. My Mother (to this day) won't actually say out loud that Santa isn't a "real guy". She took a lot of precautions to preserve this beautiful little mystery for my siblings and I.

I know some families have the tradition of an adult dressing up as Santa Claus and making an appearance for the sake of the kids. Based on what some people have told me, in these families the children will stop believing in Santa Claus much earlier, because obviously, after a certain age, they begin to recognize the adult under the costume.

In my family things were different. Santa was a mysterious notion -- he never made an appearance in person. We were told that Santa wouldn't come unless we were really sleeping. We also had some Christmas rituals that helped create "evidence" to prolong the mystery. On Christmas eve we would always leave a plate of cookies out, and a carrot for Rudolph. When we awoke in the morning, not only were the stockings full, with a neat stack of new toys for each child, we would have a personal note from Santa, written a gold pen. An empty glass of milk, cookie crumbs, and the stub of the carrot provided further evidence that he'd been by.

Another thing that might play a role in kids "figuring it out" more quickly is whether toys are wrapped or not. In my case, toys under the tree that were "from Santa" were never wrapped in paper. If you do wrap toys from Santa, you'll want to save out the paper in a hidden place and use the same stuff every year. Or at the very least, use a different roll of wrapping paper than what you've used for your family presents.


I am in that same postion with my son. He is 9 years old. So far he still believes. I don't plan on telling him anything. He will figure it out because he is a smart boy. He asked me last week if I believed in Santa and I told him yes I did. That wasn't a lie. Maybe in a different way then he does but I do beleive in Santa. I would NEVER take away the magic of it all. If kids can't believe in magic then it's a sad thing.

I find out when I saw my father putting presents under the tree. I was 9 years old. I never thought that my parents lied to me or I couldn't trust them. Kids don't think like that. They believe all parents are good. They have untainted hearts and thoughts.


I had the same question, which is how I landed on this page. My older son is 9, and he is starting to ask a lot of questions. Instead of flat out lying to him and insisting that Santa is real, I tend to ask him a lot of open-ended questions to get him thinking. If he wants to still believe, he will.

I was probably about 10-11 (and my older sister about the same) when I stopped believing. I never once thought of my parents as bad parents or liars because they told us Santa was real - it was a very magical time, and to this day, I know Christmas is much more magical with believers in our midst. Part of why I will let the boys hang on to it as long as their hearts want to.

We do a lot to "help" the boys believe... we leave out cookies and milk for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer. The boys sprinkle "reindeer dust" in the yard - which is oats and glitter, so they can find us better. All presents are from Santa, so we don't have to worry about wrapping paper. Tags are written with my left hand (I am right-handed), and we ring a sleigh bell in the house at midnight on Christmas Eve after the stockings are filled, presents are under the tree, milk/cookies/carrots are gone and letters from Santa to each of the boys are in place. My sister lives 12 hours away and she gets in on the fun by sending the boys each a letter with a North Pole postmark about 2-3 weeks before Christmas. And yes, we have an Elf on the Shelf.

It's such a magical time of the year, and I will cherish every memory of "Santa-time", as the boys already do.


Our daughter suspected the tooth fairy wasn't real by age 6 but decided it was in her interests to keep believing for a bit longer. We don't do xmas so santa was never an issue. In one breath she'd tell us there is no santa but in the next she'd talk about the tooth fairy as if she were real. There is not a lot of logic in a child.

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    A trusted source told her the Tooth Fairy exists, but never claimed the same about Santa. As a result she believes in the Tooth Fairy but not Santa. That's perfectly logical, and you would do the same. Lack of logic only comes into it if they continue to believe something despite being proved wrong. And kids don't do that. Only adults do. :) Commented Apr 7, 2011 at 8:09

I always told my (7 yo) daughter that Santa is real, for little kids. As you age, he brings fewer and fewer presents, and your parents give presents too - definitely separate paper! As you get to nine or ten, it's all from parents, but Santa still loves you. She loves it, even though she suspects, we both enjoy it so much. It's harmless and kind of magical.

All these people who "never lie to their children" - I suspect they don't have any kids. I never hesitate to lie to my child if it protects hurt feelings and I'm able to pull it off, or, in the case of her heart defect, prevented the child knowing her life was/is in danger. I keep her out of the room when doctors and nurses discuss her health, and lie to her sweet, blue little face about her long healthy life. Lies are not just harmless but necessary sometimes. Lies can take good care of a child until they are strong enough to bear the truth.

I LOOOOVE Christmas. I was raised without it, and it's bleak to be outside looking in. Even if the kids know the truth, you can make it a magical time of year, if not with Santa and present, then with charity and good works.

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    I understand your sentiments (because I do have a child) but in general disagree with them. I want my son to grow up able to deal with the world as it is, not as some pink and fluffy place where nothing ever hurts nor disappoints. Of course I emphasise the positives, and there are things I choose not talk about because my boy isn't mature enough to deal with them yet. Nevertheless, I don't think it is healthy to pretend we live in fairyland. Moreover, there is a world of diffference between lies about Santa and lies about a life threatening illness.
    – Kramii
    Commented Jan 18, 2012 at 15:24

I personally stopped believing at age nine. I believe it is best to just let them figure it out but would suggest you tell them if they get too old. Personally, ten seems about the right age to tell a kid if they haven't already figured it out.

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    It is very important that when you give an answer you give some context as to why you believe it to be true. If people just wanted a number, they would set up a facebook poll: the value of a Stack Exchange question is that people get real, thought-out answers.
    – HedgeMage
    Commented May 8, 2011 at 22:16
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    The asker didn't ask for stories or context.
    – 5un5
    Commented Dec 8, 2012 at 2:16

Psh! I lie to my kids all the time. From a technical stand point that is. If in general lying is just not stating the truth then yes, we all do.

I suppose I would go with about 5 based on my kids' general development and how they handle the concept of creative thinking, like movies. They have asked me if the disney movie little mermaid was real. Of course it is. It's one of the finest documentaries ever made. And so is the predator, stephen king's IT and a wealth of other stories that are so obviously made up they will resolve their truths by natural order much sooner than later. So yeah, I don't really tell them santa is real. I tell them he breaks into your house at night looking for cookies but he's clumsy, so he tends to drop presents while doing so. If he finds none, he will burn down your tree. And his HO HO HO is more like a horrid evil cackle like a cartoon villain whose plan has unfolded perfectly. The way I tell it, they laugh like they know I'm joking. Am I lying? Well, I guess to the staunch, stick in the rear, strict insane moral standard parent I am, but honestly I don't care.

I'm actually more afraid of them believing in the whole christian side of the holiday, if that exists anymore, than whether or not they will be mad at me for going along with such an absurd pseudo-truth as santa clause. As the years go by we try to get them involved with charities and helping out so they transition from crazy gift showers to giving a damn about society. It will happen gradually, and 5 years is a good age. We got ours volunteering with a soup kitchen at 4. But 5 years, they were much more lingual and communication was a lot easier. When they can follow what you say, then you can devise your own methods for desaturating the myths of any holidays.

Just figure this one thing though - The world sucks. What little magic there is out there may be of utmost importance. Think of a clever way to transition the magic instead of outright saying it doesn't exist. It's not that santa clause is false. We're all santa clause for our kids. If they choose to be santa some day, they will be too.

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