Finding Out About Santa: Concerns and Advice for Reducing the Trauma

The day has come when your child has found out that Santa isn’t an actual person, or perhaps, has reached an age where you’d like to break it to them gently.  Here are some concerns other parents brought up as well as an option for telling them in a way that’s a little less traumatizing.

We posted two articles recently about the questions and concerns that came up with introducing Santa and keeping up the charade.  Here are the articles in case you missed them, Introducing Santa: Should We or Shouldn’t We? and How to Keep Santa Secret and Pull off a Magical Christmas.

Concerns about how the kids find out about Santa:

Age of technology and smartphones = difficult to keep it a secret

When I was a kid we didn’t have google in our pockets.  If adults collectively wanted to keep a secret it wasn’t as difficult then as it is now.  In this age, kids have access to the internet at younger and younger ages. How do we address this if it comes up? Can we limit their access to the internet in the lead-up to the holidays?  

Other kids telling your kid

Will you be the one to tell your kid that Santa is just a story?  Will it hurt them to find out from someone else?

Deny, deny, deny!

Will you deny it?  For how long? I know that if you, right now as a fully-grown adult, went up to my dad and asked, “Is Santa real?” he’d look you straight in the eye and say, “You bet he’s real!”  And to this day, my sister and I get presents from Santa. It’s a fun holiday tradition. So maybe decide how long you want to insist, and just know that some keep the tradition for a couple years, and some commit to it for a lifetime!

“It’s kinda magical when your kids believe and if you can explain it when they get a little older. We told the kids Santa is the spirit of giving, Harry was pretty upset … Jane never even told us she knew!! But it’s a little sad when you don’t have to do the Santa thing anymore!!”

Your kid telling other kids

So your kid knows that Santa isn’t real.  Now what? Some other parents want to keep Santa going a little longer.  Do you tell your child not to tell other kids? Do you tell them to lie? Do you tell them to just avoid the subject?  Do you want your kid to be the one that ruins Santa for someone else? How can we be respectful of other parents’ wishes?

“I just told my 11 year old. I think in a way she doesn’t believe me. But I told her not to tell her 8 year old sister or anyone else she knows.”

Kids feeling betrayed and traumatized

If your child does take the realization quite poorly, how can you mediate their feelings?  Like I mentioned in our previous article, I wonder if the level of commitment you put into passing off the story as a reality correlates with the level of potential trauma?  I think a lot of it also really just depends on the personality of the kid. Another big factor is HOW they find out. Are you and your partner going to agree? Are each of your kids different? Maybe one of your children needs to know the truth, from you, when they ask, and the other is happy to dream about it a bit longer.  Whatever it is, have this discussion before it comes up so you and your partner are on the same page.

“I found out when I was about 7, we were driving to my grandmas house and I asked a question about Santa and my dad said from the front seat, Shan you don’t REALLY believe in Santa right? And my mom smacked him and said Scotttttt and my 9 year old sister said Dadddddddd and I was just quiet, letting it all sink in, that I was the butt of this big joke but that I “already knew”. I didn’t know, but I wasn’t sure.” —Shannon, Seattle, WA

Breaking it to them gently

Here’s a suggestion that I’ll just copy here since it’s so well explained:

“In our family, we have a special way of transitioning the kids from receiving from Santa, to becoming a Santa. This way, the Santa construct is not a lie that gets discovered, but an unfolding series of good deeds and Christmas spirit.

When they are 6 or 7, whenever you see that dawning suspicion that Santa may not be a material being, that means the child is ready.

I take them out “for coffee” at the local wherever. We get a booth, order our drinks, and the following pronouncement is made:

“You sure have grown an awful lot this year. Not only are you taller, but I can see that your heart has grown, too. [ Point out 2-3 examples of empathetic behavior, consideration of people’s feelings, good deeds etc, the kid has done in the past year]. In fact, your heart has grown so much that I think you are ready to become a Santa Claus.

You probably have noticed that most of the Santas you see are people dressed up like him. Some of your friends might have even told you that there is no Santa. A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE.

Tell me the best things about Santa. What does Santa get for all of his trouble? [lead the kid from “cookies” to the good feeling of having done something for someone else]. Well, now YOU are ready to do your first job as a Santa!”

Make sure you maintain the proper conspiratorial tone.

We then have the child choose someone they know–a neighbor, usually. The child’s mission is to secretly, deviously, find out something that the person needs, and then provide it, wrap it, deliver it–and never reveal to the target where it came from. Being a Santa isn’t about getting credit, you see. It’s unselfish giving.

My oldest chose the “witch lady” on the corner. She really was horrible–had a fence around the house and would never let the kids go in and get a stray ball or Frisbee. She’d yell at them to play quieter, etc–a real pill. He noticed when we drove to school that she came out every morning to get her paper in bare feet, so he decided she needed slippers. So then he had to go spy and decide how big her feet were. He hid in the bushes one Saturday, and decided she was a medium. We went to Kmart and bought warm slippers. He wrapped them up, and tagged it “merry Christmas from Santa.” After dinner one evening, he slipped down to her house, and slid the package under her driveway gate. The next morning, we watched her waddle out to get the paper, pick up the present, and go inside. My son was all excited, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The next morning, as we drove off, there she was, out getting her paper–wearing the slippers. He was ecstatic. I had to remind him that NO ONE could ever know what he did, or he wouldn’t be a Santa.

Over the years, he chose a good number of targets, always coming up with a unique present just for them. One year, he polished up his bike, put a new seat on it, and gave it to one of our friend’s daughters. These people were and are very poor. We did ask the dad if it was ok. The look on her face, when she saw the bike on the patio with a big bow on it, was almost as good as the look on my son’s face.

When it came time for Son #2 to join the ranks, my oldest came along, and helped with the induction speech. They are both excellent gifters, by the way, and never felt that they had been lied to–because they were let in on the Secret of Being a Santa.”

-Written by Leslie Rush

Wishing you all the best this holiday season!

With Love,


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