The surprising truth about Santa Claus? He's good for kids' developing minds.

by Parent Co. December 17, 2015

Experts have warned parents not to let their kids believe in Santa Claus for hundreds of years (as far back as the Reformation). But Santa can't be defeated. He always comes back to town, stronger than before.

This survey found that Santa's popularity is growing year after year (especially with moms, for some reason). He's even becoming more important to non-Christians.
It’s easy to see why kids (and many parents) enjoy the tradition of Santa Claus. He's the King of all Folk Heroes.
His story is incredible: secret Arctic workshop, mutant reindeer, a factory of elves. And that's not including the presents, which he delivers to a billion children in a single night, faster than the speed of sound.
There is one major problem with the Jolly Old Elf. He's not real.
Many parents feel a little guilty for making (or letting) their kids believe that Santa is a real being. This Business Insider post tries to sum up the negatives:
  • Lying to children is bad.
  • Who cares if it's a tradition.
  • It's cruel prank to let kids believe in Santa.
This is a writer who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. (Also, people get parenting advice from Business Insider?) His line of reasoning is heavy handed, but I agree that parents shouldn't feel bad about rejecting Santa. Santa isn't necessary for a joyous winter celebration.
But it's also okay to pretend with kids that Santa is real.
Santa Claus is RealThey'll grow out of it soon enough. They won't blame you for "lying to them." Dr. Carl Anderson literally wrote a dissertation on this subject: “On Discovering the Truth: Children's Reactions to the Reality of the Santa Claus Myth." He found that kid's belief in Santa Claus naturally fades over a couple of years. They usually know the truth before we think they do, having figured it out on their own.

Most kids know that Santa isn't real by the time they're eight though many start figuring it out as young as four years old.

Dr. Anderson also found that most kids had a positive reaction to learning the truth about Santa Claus. The vast majority said they thought their parents perpetuated Santa Claus to help them enjoy Christmas.

In the New York Times, Carole S. Slotterback, professor of psychology at the University of Scranton and author of “The Psychology of Santa" noted that in interviews with several hundred college students, just one indicated distress that Santa wasn't real. (And that was because her father told her Santa had a heart attack.)

In separate studies, two out of three kids said they felt a sense of pride in figuring out the truth about Santa Claus.

Santa isn't a lie; he’s a mystery.

It's sad but beautiful when kids figure out that Santa is an idea, not a literal being. It shows that they're are using deductive reasoning. It shows they can think for themselves. Our world needs millions or billions more kids who can think for themselves, who can reason from experience and evidence.
In a grand twist, the people most likely to suffer when kids learn the truth about Santa Claus are the parents.
When kids accept the truth about Santa - that he's a myth - it's an irrevocable sign of growing up. It means children are starting to leave their worlds of magic and fantasy behind for the often-unhappy real world. This reminds me of the movie Inside Out. For most kids past the age of 8, Santa Claus exists in the Memory Dump with Bing Bong. And I don't know a parent who didn't cry in that movie.
Santa is good for the imagination.

It's a sad commentary on the lack of wonder and imagination in our time that many parents (and parenting experts) think that letting kids "believe" in Santa Claus might scar them.

In the New York Times, Dr. Alison Gopnik said:

“Why do children love imaginary figures like Santa Claus, then? Because they like to pretend. And when children pretend, they are exercising the evolutionarily crucial human ability to envision alternative ways the world could be. In adults that ability is at the core of our very real capacities for invention and innovation.”

It's a sad commentary on the lack of wonder and imagination in our time that many parents (and parenting experts) think the story of Santa Claus can scar kids. When my kid was four, she said, "Goblins aren’t real like fairies are, right?" I loved that she lived in a world where fairies are real. I wanted to protect that fantasy for as long as possible.

A good imagination is critical for healthy development in young kids. A powerful fantasy life helps kids model and understand the world. Imagination is an essential human adaption.

This Slate article highlights three studies that show how age-appropriate belief in fantasy subjects like Santa Claus can give kids advantages for emotional understanding, imagination, and reasoning.

This study shows that kids who have rich imaginary lives (including imaginary friends) correlated to higher scores for emotional understanding.

This mindset can also help kids formulate creative solutions and new ideas.

At the end of the day, Christmas isn't about Santa Claus.

It's about warmth, lights on a tree, faith in a Savior, family time, gifts, togetherness, joviality, the end of the year, the return of the sun.

Maybe it should also include faith in imagination. Maybe that's another thing that Santa is good for.

Santa is up to you, and your tradition. The fact that you're even thinking about it bodes well for your kids.

And what to say to them starts they figure it out? I suggest simply asking "What do you think?"

That's the wonder of Santa Claus.




Parent Co.

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