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Advice for parents
January 15, 2018

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Signs children are doubting

n Asking questions is the No. 1 sign children may be doubting the existence of Santa. Children may ask specific, probing questions, said Lauren Jacobson-McConnell, professor of human studies and family development at Penn State Altoona. They start asking questions: "How's it possible to fly around the world?"

"How can he visit all the children?" "How can Santa eat all the cookies?"

n They begin looking for answers on their own - sneaking around to find hidden presents, or special wrapping paper.

n Children may become especially concerned about the equity of Santa. Why do some children get more presents than others, or some children do not get any at all.

When do children start questioning

n Around age 8, children develop the cognitive skills to think logically, and by age 10, they have the capacity to question Santa.

n If, by sixth or seventh grade, they still believe, their peers will most likely step in and blow enough holes in the story, and Santa eventually becomes a myth.

What can parents do?

n Find out exactly what your child knows, and what they want to know. Though some children might ask questions about Santa, they might not be ready to learn the truth, (especially if they are in preschool or early elementary school), said Jacobson-McConnell. Because young children often fixate on make-believe, Santa easily fits into their lives as something that is real.

n Let the child take the lead. If a child asks whether Santa is real, a good response is "Well, what do you think?" said Mary O'Leary Wiley, an Altoona-based psychologist. "Odds are fairly high that the child will tell you exactly what he or she wants to hear." A follow-up question a parent can ask is "How do you feel about knowing the truth?"

n Realize that children may go on believing even when it might not logically make sense. As children get older, Santa may become an extremely important part of the holiday season, and even if a child is older elementary or middle school, the belief in Santa may be so embedded in their lives, they might not consider the option that Santa might not be real. "The fact that they have this long-held belief about Santa may interfere with their ability to think about Santa in a logical way even though they can think logically about math and science topics at school," Jacobson-McConnell said.

n Allow children to express their feelings, said Jacobson-McConnell. They may feel sad, disappointed or angry at their parents.

n Make it a positive experience. When talking with their children, some parents might want to tell the history of Santa Claus, why they chose to include Santa in family traditions, and what the future holds for Santa and Christmas in their family.

n Some parents may discourage their kids from telling other kids about Santa. While it's important to respect traditions in beliefs in other families, young kids (third grade and younger), will find it hard to keep the secret, and might feel guilty about accidentally telling someone.

n Before deciding how to handle Santa with their kids, both parents should agree on what and how they want their traditions to be carried out in their family, what they value most about the holiday and how Santa should be included. Parents also know their children best, so they may know when a child is ready, and what would be best for the child.

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