December 17th, 2018

The Make-Believe Minefield

Mythical figures such as the Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, make up the many iconic and nostalgic symbols of childhood for many families. They are very much a feature of many  childhoods. But sometimes our John Lewis ad fantasy of Christmas can be marred by our concerns about  ‘breaking the news’ to our children and revealing our apparent deception about these childhood figures. Some parents  dread the question “Mummy, is Father Christmas real?” and older children who are ‘in the know’ may use their power to shatter their younger sibling’s illusions. This dilemma requires UN-level diplomacy. (All in a day’s work for parents, right?)

Ideally you would decide when the time is right to tell your child about Santa but sometimes older siblings or friends get in there first or adult ‘loose lips’ mean that your child works it out for themselves or they’re suspicious and they confront you.

It is often a moment of sadness, as we realise that their innocence about the magic of Christmas may be shattered. Some parents worry about having ‘lied’ to their children. Will their kids ever trust them again? We struggle to know what to do for the best. Do we tell him the truth? What do I say? What if he accuses me of being a liar?

Here are 5 top tips on handling the Santa Illusion

  1. Put your mind at rest. If you have kept the magic of Santa Claus alive this is not the same as lies that hurt or avoid responsibility and children from 7 upwards can distinguish pro-social lies from other kinds of falsehoods. Tell your child that there once was a real man called St Nicholas who lived a long time ago and gave away everything he owned to the sick, the needy and the suffering. The name Santa Claus is derived from St Nicklaus. You need not go into a full historical account of the emergence of the roly-poly white-bearded red-suited modern version, including the involvement of Coca-Cola’s marketing department!

Santa Claus is all part of the mystery and the spirit of Christmas and the image of a jovial man with a white beard flying in the sky with all his reindeers and visiting the children all over the world is magical. The way he comes down the chimney; gulps back the whisky  and eats all the shortbread ( at least in Scotland) with Rudolph munching the carrots is pure fantasy and all part of the folklore that has been passed down through generations from your grandparents to your own parents as you are doing now.

  1. If your child asks is Santa real? The best way to reply is what do you think? This lets you know where your child is in his thought processes and allows him to come to his own conclusions.
  2. When asked the question “Do you believe in Santa?” you can say

When I was a little girl, I really believed in Santa Claus and loved the idea of him bringing gifts to all the children across the world. Now I am grown up, I see that Santa Claus is not a real person but is part of the Christmas celebration alongside singing carols and putting up xmas trees.  He is all about generosity and love.”

Santas seem to emerge everywhere during the festive season and this can be so confusing for littlies. Indeed it may be may be a relief to learn that the slightly smelly man in the shopping mall is not the real McCoy. What our children need is to believe in something that they can’t see or touch or prove; something bigger than themselves.

  1. Explain that Santa Claus represents hope, how to believe, how to share and be generous and how to love and fill everyone’s hearts with joy and wonder.

Do think about what the Santa tradition means to you. It’s a ritual that is handed down in families, not just those who celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival. Those shared stories preserve the sense of belonging to that family. Each family has their own Christmas rituals . These traditions are even more important to my children as they’ve got older and the act of gift giving encourages them to think about others and the world beyond their own.

  1. In order to get big brother not spilling the beans, ask your child to continue the story for his little sibling so that he too can experience the wonder of Christmas. Ask him to take on the role of being ‘The Keeper of Secrets’ and a Custodian of the Santa myth. Letting the older ones be part of the creation of the mystery, is key. Maybe he can stay up a little later on Christmas eve and be Santa’s helper.

Dig deep and try to imagine what it feels like to be 7, 8, 9,with an annoying/perfect younger sibling. Empathise with those feelings and don’t try to brush them aside or make your child wrong for them. You may think those feelings are uncharitable but that won’t make them go away. What your older child needs more than anything is to feel heard. Teach him to show caring for others, by showing compassion for your prickly older one.

I can see you felt very tempted to break the news about Santa to your sister. I’m glad you didn’t because believing in Santa is a very special part of Christmas. In this family we believe it’s important for all of us to believe in some things that we can’t see or touch or prove. We think imagination and mystery and a sense of wonder are very special. Just like when you looked up at the Supermoon and wondered about it. My guess is you’d like to show your sister that you already know. That might make you feel important and powerful and grown up. I get it. But you know, I have a very important grown-up job for you now that you’re 8….”

Wishing you and your family a magical mythical christmas.

Elaine & Melissa

Posted in: Christmas





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