Explaining Santa to an older child doesn’t have to be heartbreaking. After all, we all know the day will come. Our children will ask us the dreaded question. The one we work so hard each year to avoid.
“Is Santa Real?” “Are Mommy and Daddy really Santa?”
I know people have all sorts of opinions when it comes to Santa and children.
Opinions about “doing Santa.”
Opinions about when to “share the truth about Santa.”
Opinions about what that “Santa truth” exactly is.
Opinions about explaining Santa to an older child who’s asking questions.
I can’t speak for all parents and all situations but in our home, we have Santa. We do all we can in keeping the Santa belief alive.
Our son, Kye, is 9 years old this year. I’ve been able to tell for awhile now that he’s in the stage of believing in Santa where he knows but also doesn’t want to fully know.
He has asked questions over the recent years that show
“How does Santa get around the world in one night?”
“Why do some kids get three Santa gifts and some get ALL their gifts from Santa?”
“I want this $800 toy…Santa can bring it for me, right?”
None of his questions were a direct asking about Santa being real, but all of them have hinted to his questioning his belief in Santa.
Until this year.
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Explaining The Truth About Santa to Your Older Child
Kye came to me one day privately and asked out right: “Mom. Is Santa real?”
I always knew when/if my kids asked me outright that I wouldn’t lie to them.
Plus, I have a super honest face and my facial expressions totally give me away anyway so it’d be impossible for me to lie even if I wanted to.
Lucky for me he asked me in my bedroom while we were alone.
I worked through the letter with him. I explained that no one person is Santa.
That we are ALL Santa when we keep the Christmas Spirit alive.
We are a Disney family and I explained it to him this way:
When we visit Disney World we know that the characters we meet aren’t really real.
We know that Mickey is a person in a suit. We know that each princess is a different person dressed up. We know this.
But when we meet them?
It’s like this magical thing happens where
We feel excited and joyful and eager to meet them, hug them, joke with them, smile with them and make a memory with them.
And that’s the same with Santa. The Christmas Spirit is what makes Santa real. It’s the magic. The joy. The cherished memories together.
He totally understood this analogy.
He shared with me that he’s known deep down about Santa for a few years.
That he has questioned it but didn’t want to ask me because he wasn’t ready to know the real truth. He wanted to keep believing.
Not tears of anger at me for “lying” to him about Santa.
Not tears because he’d just learned some groundbreaking knowledge.
But tears of a child realizing they are growing up. Tears mourning the end of a huge era of childhood. And that’s what explaining Santa to an older child should do: help them realize that they are maturing.
Explaining Santa to Your Older Child: Grieving The Change
I think it’s vert important to allow children to process things in their own ways.
Each of us can remember back to when we learned that Santa isn’t real.
We can remember feeling disappointed.
That little piece of us that still held onto hope that someone would prove us wrong: that a man in a red suit really does come down our chimneys.
It’s heartbreaking to learn the truth. It’s a big step in growing up. And it comes at a time when so many other changes are starting to happen.
Kye is nine. He’s a pre-teen. Starting to have hormones and some body changes. Puberty is on the way and that is a big step towards the end of childhood.
He is also at an age where he’s gaining more responsibility and losing that childhood freedom of a world of play.
School isn’t fun anymore – it’s work.
Learning that Santa isn’t real isn’t just letting go of a Christmas tradition: in many ways it’s letting go of childhood.
And that’s a big deal.
I wanted to tread lightly with him. I didn’t give him more information than what he asked for.
He asked about Santa, so I told him about Santa.
He’s yet to ask about the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.
And although I’m sure he knows the truth about those as well…I’m not pushing any of that on him until he’s ready to ask.
He did ask a few weeks later about our Elf on the Shelf. He approached me and said “so since Santa’s not real, that means the Elf on the Shelf isn’t real either huh?”
I could see the disappointment all over his face when we asked.
I told him that now that he knows about Santa and our elf on the shelf that he can help be part of the magic and HE can be in charge of hiding the elf each night if he wanted (hello…free up the parents from doing it!).
He said that no, he didn’t want to hide the elf.
He said he wanted Mommy and Daddy to still handle the elf and that he was going to try to forget that he knew about the elf so he could still be excited every morning to see him.
But he wasn’t excited.
When our elf arrived this year every morning I saw Kye’s pain when he came downstairs for breakfast. His siblings were all eager to find the elf. Excited. Joyful.
He played along but his eyes told the truth: every morning was a reminder of the magic he no longer had.
Seeing him hurting was so hard for me as his mama. I wished I could fix it all and give him all that childhood innocence back.
I struggled with how to handle this and how to help him while also not overly coddling him either. Growing up is part of life.
It’s hard, but it is a personal journey that he did have to make peace with on his own.
He had to accept that parts of childhood were gone and find his own way to grieve that and find the good things about growing up.
Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive For Your Older Child: Embracing Growing Up
I had a few talks with Kye about his feelings and realized that he did struggle in finding the positive aspects of growing up. To him, getting older meant less fun and more work/responsibility.
I had a lightbulb moment where I realized I could help him get through this time of transition but helping him to see the positive parts of growing up!
There is FUN in adulthood. There is JOY in Christmas. There are tons of great, awesome things about getting older!
Our family is big about milestones. When you turn 5 you get to watch Star Wars. When you turn 6 you can try chewing gum. When you turn 7 you’re able to ride solo with a sibling at Disney. Etc. Etc.
I thought about it and realized that Kye is at an age where there hasn’t been a whole lot of fun milestones for him.
I couldn’t really think of anything he’s able to do that his 7 year old sister isn’t able to.
One small, but significant, thing we are now letting Kye do that his siblings can’t is order soda when we eat out.
We RARELY eat out but when we do we always get water to drink. If the kids meal comes with a drink, then the kids can get lemonade.
Kye is almost 10. I mean I’m not going crazy here and letting him get caffeinated soda 😉 buttttt why not let him get Sprite or some other caffeine free drink? It’s a benefit of getting older. A milestone. A perk.
Just that ONE small thing has made a big impact on him.
He has a thing that the other kids don’t. Something that sets him a part. A benefit of being older and growing up. He’s not a baby anymore!
I am also making an effort to point out other ways that he benefits. He gets paid more for his chores (yes his are harder but still…it’s more money!).
He gets to stay up later (yes…it’s just reading time but still!). I’m looking for the positive things about his age and stage in life and being mindful of sharing those things with him.
I’m also making sure his siblings are aware of his milestones. Let him order the Sprite rather than whispering that he can have it to the waiter.
Let it be known that Kye is oldest and that he gets this benefit!
Come Hang With Our Fam and Keep Up With Our Adventures:
Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive For Your Older Child: Keeping the Secret
As a parent with a child who no longer believes in Santa you may be worried about how to make Christmas morning magical without Santa. I’m not overly concerned about this.
Just as we as adults feel excited about Christmas morning…even while knowing just about every gift under the tree…older children who no longer believe in Santa the way they did as a younger child will still have that excitement in the moment.
I’m not worried what-so-ever about how Kye will respond in the moment on Christmas morning. He will feel that Christmas magic.
The magic of Christmas is so special and something felt by us all. If we believe in Santa, or not.
I’m also not concerned about Kye keeping the “Santa secret.” He understands the importance of allowing his siblings to believe for as long as they possibly can.
When he and I had the talk about Santa being in our hearts and Santa not being an actual person I did also talk about the importance of never mentioning it to anyone.
Don’t assume kids in your class know about Santa. Don’t assume your cousins know. Or your friends. Or siblings.
Always assume that everyone believes in Santa. And never, ever, EVER say anything that might even HINT at making them question Santa’s existence.
I hope that all my children are mature enough when they ask about if Santa is real to handle the knowledge and embrace the shift in magic of Christmas from childhood joy to grown up joy.
Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive For Your Older Child: Jesus is the Reason
For those who celebrate Christmas as Jesus’ birthday a great way to help an older child in transitioning away from their beliefs in Santa is to help their focus be more and more on Jesus.
As children get older their relationship with Jesus strengthens and their knowledge and understanding about their belief system
It’s a natural shift in focus from the Santa magic of Christmas to a more mature focus in the love of Christ for us and His ultimate sacrifice.
Every family has their own religious beliefs and not everyone believes the same way or celebrates Christmas in the same way either.
Personally we focus on Jesus’ life year round. Specifically, we honor his death, burial and resurrection each Sunday.
We believe in following the Bible as closely as possible and the Bible doesn’t say an exact date for Jesus’ birth so Christmas, for us, isn’t His birthday.
It’s wonderful that the world focuses on Jesus at this time of year and anytime Jesus can be honored and His Word can be spread it’s a beautiful thing!
If your family celebrates Jesus’ birthday on Christmas then it’s a natural focus for your older child to have as they understand the deeper meaning of Christmas!
Keeping the Christmas Spirit Alive For Your Older Child: Sharing the Magic
In helping Kye accept his stage of growing up I also really wanted to find a way to help him appreciate and enjoy Christmas from the “grownup” perspective.
It’s sad not having that excitement feeling about the elves being hidden each morning. It’s hard to get pumped for Christmas morning when you know Santa doesn’t bring the presents.
But rather than focusing on the loss of magic, I want him to focus on the GAIN.
Even as a parent I still feel the Christmas Magic. I still have that excitement. I still can’t sleep a wink on Christmas Eve.
Children get older. But that doesn’t mean there will be no Christmas spirit. Here are the ways we have helped our older child keep the magic of Christmas:
Let Them Help Make the Magic Happen
My husband and I have a few nights each year where we just WRAP. We get it DONE.
We talked about letting Kye be part of that time with us and help in the wrapping.
We let him stay up late and he was able to see many of the gifts his siblings were getting as well as take part in the wrapping of them.
He LOVED this. He had SO MUCH FUN and felt so sneaky getting to be up late and getting to know what his siblings were getting.
And he loved that it all gets to be a special secret just between us three. The other kids can’t know he helped wrap so he felt very special getting to take part in this activity.
I also talked to him again about the Elf on the Shelf. Since he was obviously disappointed about it each morning, I explored the idea of him helping with the hiding again.
This time he was more open to it. He knew that his whole plan of “pretending the Elf is real” wasn’t working.
Kye is very organized and loves a good plan so I talked to him about thinking up a list of ideas for the Elf to do and that Daddy and I would help make all of his ideas a reality and he could really lead the way on the entire Elf on the Shelf thing! (Needing some Elf on the Shelf inspiration yourself? You can see our elves adventures over the years in this post!)
He loved the idea of thinking up creative ideas and I could see the pride he felt in having it be his responsibility to be in charge of.
This really helped in both the Christmas Spirit and the positive focus of growing up and getting older.
Responsibility doesn’t have to be a negative…some responsibly is fun!
Here are some other ways to include your older child in the making of Christmas Magic:
- Allow them to help in choosing gifts for their siblings from Santa
- Let them fill their siblings’ stockings
- Have them ring bells outside on Christmas Eve night to let the siblings know Santa is coming soon
- Let them help in the eating of Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve
- Allow them to come up with new Christmas traditions for your family (this year Kye suggested doing a “Secret Santa” exchange and we loved it!)
Focus on Giving
I talked to Kye a lot about the joy of giving. It’s so fun to give to others and see their joy and their excitement.
A big thing about growing up is that the joy transfers. It’s no longer about the joy you get in receiving, it becomes more and more about the joy in giving.
And in that giving it’s also about giving to people aside from just our family unit. It’s about giving to others who need that joy in their lives too.
Talking about ways children can give to others can really help keep the focus off of themselves and keep their Christmas Spirit alive through giving to others and feeling the incredible feeling of seeing others so happy.
Kye is very involved in his school with Student Council and Jr Beta and he helped organize a toy drive at his school to collect toys for children who were affected by Hurricane Michael.
He LOVED helping in this effort and it made his heart feel full and joyful and helped him to understand that growing up means we get to give more…which is a gift in itself too!
Make a New Tradition
Kye was thrilled about getting to stay up late to wrap gifts with us. This will be a new tradition we do each year with our children as they learn the truth about Santa.
Along with that my husband and I thought we’d incorporate special “big kid” things into that night.
Many Christmas movies are more geared towards older kids and now that Kye is older we thought it’d be a great way to celebrate the shift from childhood magic to grown up magic by watching a more adult Christmas movie!
My husband and I actually hadn’t ever seen Elf before but I’d heard it talks a lot about Santa being real so I’d avoided it as I didn’t want anything making our kids question their belief in Santa any younger than they already would naturally!
We thought Elf would be the PERFECT movie to watch during our Christmas gift wrapping session and to create a new tradition…and it was!
We all three loved it and Kye was over-the-moon thrilled to get to be old enough to watch a “big kid” movie with us and that we were all seeing it for the first time together.
My husband and I made sure to point out many of the times it mentioned Santa being real or other parts we wouldn’t want the younger kids seeing because they weren’t old enough to understand the humor.
We all really enjoyed it and had SUCH a fun night together.
It was EXACTLY what Kye needed and it totally and completely shifted his perspective.
He went from feeling sad about Santa…to being so excited about getting to be Santa with us!
Such a small, simple idea to really keep the holiday magic alive for us all.
Each phase of life has many perks and learning the truth about Santa allows our older children to enter into a new phase of childhood.
By embracing that stage we can also have new magical moments at Christmas time together!