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Is Lying To Our Children About Santa Good For Them?

Jen Slack's picture
Santa claus and lying to our children

As parents, many of us simply lie to our children and perpetuate the myth that a god-like being watches them all of the time and rewards them with presents, if they are good, and punishes them with coal in their stockings if they are bad. But is this really healthy for us to cause our children to believe in something that we wholeheartedly know is a myth?


In an article published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, two experts weigh in with warnings about how the Santa myth could cause harm to your relationship with them. The authors, psychologist Chris Boyle, from the University of Exeter and mental health researcher Kathy McKay, from the University of New England, Australia bring up some valid points about the issue, in the article entitle "A Wonderful Lie".

The article suggests that the child could experience "abject dissappointment" when they learn that the jolly, beloved man does not exist at all.

In talking to some parents who do not tell teach their children about Santa, it seems that they simply do not want to lie to their kids. They want to be known as a source of truth to them, and teaching them about Santa would jeopardize that.

It seems the authors agree, especially if the relationship between the parent and child is not a solid one.

An Involved Long Lasting Lie

McKay explains, “The Santa myth is such an involved lie, such a long-lasting one, between parents and children, that if a relationship is vulnerable, this may be the final straw. If parents can lie so convincingly and over such a long time, what else can they lie about?”

Today, with divorces being so common, and parents, unfortunately and wrongfully, pitting the child against the other parent, I can see how a revelation of being lied to, could further damage the relationship between the child and the parent with whom the child already feels resentment toward.

As well, the author is absolutely correct about just how involved and long-lasting the lie is. The lie lasts from birth for possibly more than a decade. As far as the 'involvement part, I'm sure it varies from home to home. I have known of some parents who did not actively teach the belief, who also did not correct their child when he or she spoke of it. However, in other families the involvement is much more extreme. It involves yearly writing and receiving correspondence, visits and photos with Santa, tracks made in the snow, songs about Santa, warnings about bad behavior being seen, treats that have been gobbled down - the list is endless. As well, in the last couple of years, even further perpetuated with the entrance of The Elf On The Shelf - something I find just creepy.

With all of this various involvement to make Santa seem real, Boyle suggests that as illogical as it might be, we humans will just conform with whatever society dictates us toward. So, if our society tells us that we should teach our children that a magical being exists in the North Pole, and that elves are sitting around on shelves watching then, we will just accept that as normal things to teach to our children. As well, he says, we humans enjoy escaping reality into the world of make believe. “We’re trying to hark back to our glory days as children.”

In short, here is why teaching kids about Santa might actually harm them, instead of help them.

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You Are Setting Your Children Up For Dissapointment

As parents, we hate seeing our kids experience disappointment, however, we've created a myth that is sure to set them up for that very thing. Hopefully, it will be mild disappointment, rather than trauma. Have you ever heard of anyone being traumatized by the knowledge that Santa didn't exist? Read more about real life people who called in to a radio talk show one Christmas Eve morning with some startling stories.

Are You Causing Your Kids Not To Trust You?

When you tell your kids something that is obviously not true, will they trust you again? There are too many variables to be able to solidly answer the question, like the strength of the relationship, the maturity of the child, the experiences of the child, etc. However, it can not be wrong to ask yourself the question.

Are we taking advantage of their trust in us, only to damage that? Or, as this study, suggests, while young children exhibit more skepticism than we might think, and question what they are being told, some parents might be over zealous in continuing to perpetuate the myth of Santa. It's quite possible that the more skeptical the child is, and the more reassurance that the parent gives the skeptical child upon questioning the myth, the more damage done to the trust of the child.

Perpetuating the Myth Is Self Serving

According to the authors, when we perpetuate the myth, playing Santa, laying out cookies, moving the Elf to a new shelf, etc, brings us back to a time when our own imaginations and fantasies were encouraged.

In trying to make our children happy, are we setting them up for the very opposite?

Omitting the Truth to Kids Can Cause Harm

Six and 7 year olds involved in a small MIT study showed lack of trust and suspicion when they learned that an authority figure has lied to them. Is this really a surprise to anyone?

Do you remember when you first learned that Santa did not exist? Were you mildly disappointed or devastated? Do you feel it harmed the trust you had in your parents? Or if you grew up without the belief, it would also be great to hear from you. Please comment below.

And during this hectic holiday season, take some time to reflect and calm yourself with these Christmas quotes for peace and tranquility.



I agree. Santa is a distraction and can harm kids.
Thank you for your comments. I am kind of surprised no one is here to defend the teaching of Santa.
OK, I'll do it--I will defend Santa! Here's the thing in my humble opinion as a parent of what I believe are some pretty well-adjusted kids (now adults) and a past writer on parenting. Two things: (1) Kids are smart and do not live in a social bubble of isolation. With pre-school classmates who are "in the know" and some obvious Santa flaws outside the house, the realization that Santa may not be real--but kinda more like cartoon characters or fairy tale or Disney creations--the kids typically develop some growing skepticism until the truth is evident. Especially if there is a bratty older sibling or cousin to clue them in. (2) I believe that the key the mental health professionals point to is that if a relationship between a child and parent is "already strained" for some reason, then there could be a downside to the Santa myth in the home. However, the problem is not with Santa, but with the parents and their parenting. Children raised with love and respect will return the love and respect and will develop the self-confidence they need to handle the Santa truth when it does finally happen without feeling deceived by their parents. I would argue that disappointment is necessary from time to time to develop strong character, provided a parent or mentor is there to help guide a child. The whole anti-Santa argument is a knee jerk reaction where we tend to find fault with everything but ourselves. Young children need to be young children, so why deprive them of a mythical character who is giving and non-threatening in an otherwise scary world filled with reality. Myths play an important role in all cultures until a person is able or educated enough to handle the truth--whatever that is. Santa still lives in our home and our hearts.
Thank you for your comments. Much appreciated. Let's talk. Sometimes the parent-child relationship is strained without any blame to a parent. Example, kids at school making fun of the parent, or the father who belittling the mother, in a divorce situation, for examples. I used to foster children, who were shuttled around from home to home. I often wondered what these kids would feel like when they learned that something they loved didn't exist. I do agree that for some kids, it can be a fun part of growing up. I do actually look fondly back myself, believe it or not. Did you read the other article that this one is linked to? About the callers to the radio station? As well, I agree that disappointment and how to handle it is not really a horrible thing for children to experience. But do we purposely set them up for disappointment, ever? I really can't think of another case where parents set their kids up for disappointment down the road. I'd like to see more studies out there, but cannot seem to find much.