What do psychologists say about the influence of Santa’s story on children?
Two experts in psychology state that when we tell children stories about Santa Claus and his location in the North Pole, his headquarters and the place of all the gifts to people around the world, we may cause a loss of trust that our children have in ourselves.
Also, the two professors say that parents use the existence of Santa Claus and the presents he brings as an excuse to make their children obedient and behave in a certain way.
In addition, they claim that when children realize that their parents have lied about Santa Claus, they will also have doubts about all the other things they were told, from fairy tales to the existence of God.
Play in children’s development
Play is serious business for children and rich imagination is one of their specific (and perfectly normal) features.
Symbolic games – fighting superheroes with two bent sticks, the adventures of ponies, transformation into Spiderman or princesses – are necessary activities, extremely important in the development of children, through which they learn to develop new skills.
Children live in an imaginary world, but that world is real to them. They truly believe that there is a real monster under the bed or in the closet. For them, if something is plausible, then it’s real, it’s true.
At any age, a generous imagination is extremely important, but for children, its presence is crucial because it gives them a proper context for adjusting their own behaviors in order to achieve objectives centered on internal motivation.
At the age of 1-4 years, children can understand specific concepts such as sleigh, reindeer, Santa Claus, gifts but cannot comprehend abstract concepts such as generosity.
Therefore, regarding this matter, there is no difference between the story of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the story of the wolf who steals naughty children.
So, whether we choose to actively create Santa’s magic, or we choose not to subscribe to Christmas consumerism, we have a background of reasons why we do it, certain beliefs.
Parents who say that Santa is real are doing it because they have certain beliefs:
- I also believed in Santa Claus and I treasure the memories and nostalgia of that period. I enjoy reliving those moments with my child.
- I want my child to feel the magic of Christmas.
- Children who believe in Santa Claus with such a power are absolutely adorable.
- All children believe in Santa Claus.
- You’re only a child once!
- Why should we be in a rush to shorten childhood by stealing the innocence and magic of stories?
- You haven’t lived your childhood if you didn’t believe in Santa Claus.
- Santa Claus is a good ally in bribing children: ” If you don’t do…, Santa Claus won’t bring you toys,” or “You must be good because Santa sees all.”
Parents who choose to say that Santa Claus does not exist have their own beliefs:
- I don’t want to lie to my child about anything, ever.
- I lecture them about the importance of telling the truth, but I tell them Santa Claus is real?
- If my child sees that other children don’t get anything for Christmas, he might wonder what’s wrong with those children. Are they bad, therefore they didn’t receive anything?
- I don’t want my child to be disappointed when he learns the truth.
- Why would I want to transfer the gratitude to an imaginary character, after I made all the efforts for those presents?
- Christmas is more than Santa Claus and receiving gifts. I wouldn’t want my child to confuse Christmas with receiving gifts.
Which of the two parties is right and who’s wrong?
To find the answer, we should establish the criteria by which to part them. Obviously, the criteria should be the good of the child.
So the question is: “Could Santa’s story harm the children in any way?”
We don’t know if Santa Claus is real or not, but it’s absolutely certain that Santa Claus is everywhere. Even if he is not present in some cases, even if we choose not to lie to our child, Santa Claus is on TV, on the streets, in kindergarten, in other people’s houses. Therefore, we must give them an explanation anyway.
Parents who believe that telling stories about Santa means lying to their child, those who fear that children will be disappointed when they find out the truth, are right in their own way. In the meantime, Santa Claus is not real. If you feel guilty about lying to your child or you simply feel that it would stand against your personal values, just don’t do it.
Robert Feldman is a psychologist who studies lying and deception. He says that when he began his research he thought that lying is a very rare phenomenon. However, his perception changed after carefully studying the problem and he concluded that two people making a casual conversation lie on average about 3 times in 10 minutes.
White lies such as “This dress look great on you,” “I think you’ve progressed a lot lately,” “You’re an exceptional mother!” have a social purpose, making interactions with others calmer, more pleasant.
Of course, the clearest result of being caught lying, whether it’s a small lie or a big one, is the disappointment, the deception. From this point of view, white lies like “You’re the coolest kid in the world” or “Your drawing skills are amazing” (even though there are 3 scribbles on a sheet) have the same potential for disappointment and disillusionment like finding out later the truth about Santa Claus!
Not to mention asking the kids to pretend they like the gifts they received:
“Don’t say you don’t like your gift, it upsets grandma. Pretend you’re happy with it and then you can do whatever you want with the gift.”
Basically, we are teaching our children that it’s okay to lie (and thus disappoint).
In conclusion, believing that Santa’s story is beneficial or harmful to children remains a personal choice that each parent has to make sooner or later.