Telling the truth about Santa Claus

This time of year, the "jolly old elf" with the fur-trimmed red suit is everywhere.

To many, Santa Claus is a harmless legend that contributes a sense of magic to the holiday season. But Frances Waksler, a professor at Boston's Wheelock College, strongly suggests that parents tell the truth about Santa from the beginning.

When she conducted interviews for her book, "The Little Trials of Childhood and Children's Strategies for Dealing With Them," some people told her that, after they discovered that Santa wasn't real, they felt betrayed by their parents. They said: "I'd never known them to lie to me before. Why go through all that if they're going to tell me [eventually] anyway?"

Children may also wonder: If Santa isn't real, are other good things I've been taught not true either? Dr. Waksler tells the story of a little girl who found out during the ride to Sunday School that Santa was a myth. On the way home, she asked, "Well, what about God? Is he real?"

If parents have allowed kids to believe in Santa Claus and then change their minds, how should they handle that?

Be upfront, Waksler advises. "Say, 'I didn't realize it would be a problem, and I won't do that again. I apologize.' Children take that kind of thing very well."

Some children may be unhappy when they discover the truth, she acknowledges. Reassure them that Santa Claus "is a game people play," and that other pleasant holiday traditions - presents, cookies, parties - will remain the same.

Instead of focusing on an improbable tale, Waksler recommends talking about loving, caring family relationships - things that are real as well as good. Then kids won't miss the fiction of Santa.

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