How merry is it to lie to your kids about Santa Claus?
While some parents worry about the impact of lying to their children about this popular Christmas legend, it’s possible that it may be better for them in the long run. This is what Dr. Kristen Dunfield, a professor of developmental psychology, argued in a recent blog. Certainly, concerns have their role, but she contends that the process of figuring out the truth can be good for their development.
In fact, fantastical beliefs, like that in Santa Claus, can lead to certain positive developments in a child’s psyche. This can include what are known as counterfactual reasoning skills, which basically involve a child’s ability to think creatively and outside the box.
There is not even much a parent has to do to foster this belief. As Dr. Dunfield discusses, belief in Santa is overwhelmingly popular amongst children, but they tend to figure out the truth by the age of eight or so. This means that not only does the burden of promoting the myth not fall on the parent, but neither does the duty of dispelling it.
This very process of coming to understand that Santa is not real can also be helpful from a developmental perspective. By figuring out that magical actions are not really possible, children come to develop and apply critical thinking to the world around them.
That very method of critical thinking is often on display when older children begin testing the mythos, asking difficult questions about how Santa can manage to circumnavigate the globe, for instance.
The goal of a parent, for Dr. Dunfield, does not have to be about propping up the story or about being the Grinch who dispels the happy story. Instead, parents can encourage their children’s creative impulses, asking them to think through their questions for themselves.
For instance, she recommends “simply direct[ing] the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves.” Rather than just answering, a parent can respond “I don’t know, how do you think the sleigh flies?”
This may help many of us with the dilemma of whether to lie to our children. While deception in the household is common, that does not mean it is particularly desirable. However, by simply allowing children to come to understand the world for themselves, the problem can really be turned to their cognitive advantage.
One could even make the argument that this sort of process can help bond a family together, discussing the question of Santa and using the mythos as a sort of family-based holiday tradition. Not only could this be a fun way to spend time with a child, but it can also help forge family cohesion over the season.
This may be especially important, given that the ways in which we spend the holidays can have a significant impact on how pleasant the time is. For instance, we discussed in a past blog how family rituals significantly increased feelings of life satisfaction and reduce social loneliness. Another blog focused on how social interaction, and not overreliance on gift consumption, can significantly predict happier holidays.
However, if you are concerned that you are being lied to about Santa Claus, maybe this would be a good time to check out our deception training program.