Important note: Moms and dads, please be sure to read this post out of the eyesight of little ones who are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of Santa this year!
Christmas is the season of giving. It’s also the time of year, for some parents, when the worrisome question arises: “Will this be the year my child finds out that Santa isn’t real?”
If it feels like your child is becoming suspicious, asking questions about Santa or testing your Elf on the Shelf skills, it might be time to transition your child from believing in Santa to becoming Santa – an idea-turned-viral story that’s resonated with many parents of young children.
“Most children start to find out about Santa around the age of 10,” says Kathy Thompson, licensed professional counselor and registered art therapist for The Guidance Center in Southgate.
If your child is around that age or showing any sort of signs of finding out whether the gifts under the tree came from the man in the red suit, it might be good to spend some quality time with your child and begin the transition.
Create the perfect setting
So, when and how do you have this potentially tough conversation? Do it before Christmas. Pick a day that the kids are being especially good. Take them to lunch or make something at home together, like cookies or a Christmas craft.
Create a moment that they’ll remember – but also one that eases any tension for you to start the conversation. When you feel the time is right, say to your child, “I’ve noticed you’ve really grown this year. Getting older and becoming more mature means that it could be time for you to become a Santa.”
Let them know that Santa isn’t a material being (or that he once was, if you want to mention the real-life St. Nicholas character), but rather a feeling – and with that feeling comes a new milestone for them.
Focusing on the idea of becoming Santa is simple; it’s all about giving.
Start a new Christmas tradition
Give your child an assignment of picking out an activity – like volunteering – or a person to give a gift to. You could also suggest letting your child pick a few of their own toys or books to donate to those who are in need.
Be sure to let them know that the transition of becoming Santa is an exciting one, and it comes with a new responsibility that also makes them feel important. According to KidsHealth.org, letting kids know they are important enough to have an impact on someone or something else is empowering.
Giving to others and allowing your child to identify those needs is also an important developmental skill.
“Having selfless tendencies allows children to be better friends, contribute to the family dynamic and helps others in need. Research also shows that empathetic people have a higher chance of job success and better mental health,” says Jessica Cortez, child and adolescent therapist located in Troy, Michigan.
“(Going) from getting gifts to wanting to spread joy and give to others allows your child to become more thoughtful and contribute to the greater good,” she adds.
Prepare for the future
Keep in mind that this conversation could come about at any time. Maybe your child isn’t quite ready – or maybe you aren’t. And that’s OK! “It’s healthy to have something positive to believe in, like Santa, and something to look forward to each year,” Thompson says.
If you are ready to take that next step with your child, get a game plan together on how this method would work into your routine and how you can make it special. You should also prepare for any tears that could be shed, since all children could take the news differently. Stick to the giving aspect and make it your own – and reassure your child about this exciting new role.
And, if you have other little ones who still believe in Santa, tell your newly minted Santa, “You’re transitioning to becoming Santa. This task is just for you – and remember, your brothers or sisters are not quite ready yet.”
Have you tried this method with your kids? What were their reactions? How did you tailor it to your life and what did you do differently? Let us know in the comments below!
This post was originally published in 2017 and is updated regularly.