This Christmas will be the first where my 9-year-old daughter will be joining in on the behind-the-scenes Santa charade in an effort to keep the magic alive for her little brother — who is fully expecting the big guy in red to slide down the chimney, deliver his wish list, and throw back some milk and cookies before disappearing again until next year... that is if he still believes in Santa by then. And I'm already thinking about how I'm gonna break the news a second time around.
Luckily for me (I think), my daughter began questioning if Santa was real all on her own. But I was the monster who laid out the truth with all the aplomb of a McDonald's employee repeating for the 1000th time that the ice cream machine is out of order on a 90-degree summer day. OK, so I wasn't that harsh, but since I know she's a pretty clever girl, and there was no mistaking that she was onto the truth, I didn't even try to lie.
As for my son, he's a sensitive little guy and, as I mentioned before, a full-on Santa Claus believer. He's 5, so nothing unexpected there. What I'm also expecting is probably something along the lines of tears and disappointment — yes, I'm talking about both of us. My heart is already breaking!
But after chatting with life and mom coach Stephanie Rosenfield, I'm feeling a bit better about how to handle the "Santa isn't real" talk with my son when the time comes. And in the meantime, I also feel more confident keeping his older sister from letting the cat out of the bag without making her feel like she's carrying some stressful secret.
If you’re in the same boat (err, sleigh?) as me, keep reading for expert advice on tellings kids the truth about Santa.
What should you do if you suspect your kid no longer believes?
"If you think your kid no longer believes in Santa, start off by asking them questions. Get curious and ask them things like, 'I notice that you've been thinking a lot about Santa lately; what's going on?' If they ask you, 'Is Santa real??' ask them what they think. Believing in Santa is a magical and fun tradition for many families. There is nothing wrong with creating magic for our kids! So, before spilling the beans, find out where they are at and what they think."
If they come home distraught because someone at school slipped up and told them, do you try to keep the myth alive longer?
"As [kids] start to get older, [they] hear things from peers and ask questions. It may be time to ask yourself, 'What's my goal here?' Our kids trust us, and if we expect honesty from them, it's important we are honest with them too. Fostering honesty sometimes means having tough conversations. But remember, whenever you decide to tell your kids about Santa, they will be OK! You won't screw them up either way."
You can also reassure your kid that you aren’t a *total* liar — according to History.com, the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to around 280 A.D. and a monk named St. Nicholas.
What can you say to encourage older siblings not to spill the beans to their younger siblings?
"If an older sibling finds out that Santa isn't real and you wanna keep the magic alive for a younger sibling, you can try including the older sibling. Tell them you'd like their help in being Santa for their younger sibling. They can put the presents under the tree, help out in wrapping them, and even eat the cookies that are left out overnight! The goal here is: You don't want it to be this big 'secret' they need to keep because that doesn't feel good for anyone. But, if you can include them in the process, it makes it fun — and they are helping create an experience for the whole family. Kids love to help, and it teaches them that it's nice to do things for others."
What’s a good age to tell kids about Santa?
No big surprises here: It’s going to depend on your individual kid. Amy Morin, a psychotherapist, told Insider there’s really no magic age to reveal the truth. Kids begin to think more critically between the ages of five and seven, so they might start asking questions then. But, hey, maybe your kid will believe years beyond that. As is so often true of parenting, there’s no hard and fast rule here. Just play it by ear, and be ready to have a heartfelt conversation with your kid when they’re ready.
Silver lining? Once you reach that point, your Elf on the Shelf days are probably over.