In general, we try to be pretty honest people. I mean we're journalists. But when it comes to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy, or whatever it is in your family ... is it bad to lie to your kids to keep the magic alive?
Cory's gotten deep into the Santa ruse: setting out the reindeer snack, calling into the Santa tracker on Christmas Eve. Anya wrote notes impersonating the Tooth Fairy and when that didn't work, she even set up a phone call! The con has gotten really long, and the kids might be on to us. We know we're not alone.
Here are four tips for handling that awkward moment when your kids start doubting the world of magic. Luckily Rosemarie Truglio, a childhood development specialist and senior vice president of Education and Research at Sesame Workshop, is going to help us figure out how — and how long — to keep the magic alive.
1. You aren't lying. You're entering their world of make-believe.
Characters like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy are actually an important way for grownups to bond with our kids, according to Truglio. "It's during those early years, you know, up to age 7, that their world is filled with magic and imagination. You know, how many of us have had imaginary friends?"
Truglio says that to kids this age, "Everything is real. So even when you think about our characters — Elmo, and Abby, and Snuffleupagus and Big Bird — those characters are real to children. They live outside of the TV box."
It's actually healthy, she says, to engage with kids in this world of make-believe. "How did you feel when you were a child?" she says. "It is that warm spot in your heart that we remember and we want to convey to our children."
2. When kids start asking questions, listen carefully. They might not be ready for the whole truth.
Truglio says when your kids ask about these make-believe characters, they may not actually be asking what you think they're asking. Beware of giving them an answer they're not quite ready for. So rather than responding immediately, try asking a question.
Truglio has a perfect, personal example. She and her family are Catholic. And her son Lucas attended a predominantly Jewish school growing up. When he was around 8, one day a bunch of his classmates told him Santa wasn't real. So Lucas came home and asked his mom if Santa was real. She started with a simple question back to him — "Why are you asking?" And then out came the story about his classmates.
"I said, well, Lucas, you know, they're Jewish. And we're Catholic. And so do you think that has something to do with it because they don't celebrate Christmas? He's like, oh, yeah. You're right. That's all he needed at that moment. He wasn't — he didn't want to give up on the magic of Santa."
3. When the jig is up (you'll know!), come clean and be prepared for big feelings.
When Truglio's son was 10, he simply told her, Santa isn't real, and you and Daddy get the presents. At this point, Truglio says the responsible thing to do is to just tell the truth. (She did.) The conversation was difficult — her son was upset. He knew Santa didn't exist, but he was holding on to the magic.
4. Find new ways to keep the magic alive.
Just because the make-believe is over, doesn't mean the magic has to be. Maybe your older child begins to play Santa Claus alongside you, delivering presents for a younger sibling. For Lucas, it was about surprise.
"Still to this day, he'll say, you know, I know I have to make a list. But can you surprise me? Surprise me with something that's not on the list," Truglio says. "And it's about — that surprise reminds him of that special time, the magic of Christmas morning."
Keeping the magic alive, however you choose to do it, it's not just good for kids. It's good for everybody.
This story was originally published on April 26, 2019.