Generally lying to children is bad. However there is also a ‘white’ lie that is good to be told to children, according to psychologists. And this is because to believe in Santa Claus is a healthy part of growing up. The concept of a man who travels in the air on a sledge drawn by flying reindeers and manages to get into the houses all over the world in one night is a fairytale. Yet the myth of Santa Claus is alive and well throughout the centuries and has become a timeless tradition.
Imagination is an integral part of development
“I don’t think it is bad for kids to believe in the myth about someone who is trying to make people happy and reward them if they show good behavior,” said Dr. Matthew Lormper, child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital, New York. “Imagination is an integral part of growing up and helps the brain to be creative.”
Besides, the myth of Santa Claus has its “roots” in a true story based on a real person who became known for giving gifts and money to the poor, as told by Dr. Lormper to the scientific news website LiveScience. “This is the spirit of Christmas, even though the current consumer culture has probably escaped it,” added the expert.
Santa Claus is just one of the legendary figures children believe in. They use their imagination all the time, even when they know that the final “creation” of this imaginary process is a fake. Moreover, psychologists are concerned about children who do not have the ability to write or say such fantastic stories, explained the expert.
In malls and on the screen
The story of Santa Claus is also “intertwined” with the modern culture: this time of the year every mall that respects itself has his own Santa Claus photographed with children, while the small and the big screens are filled with the presence of Santa Claus at Christmas time, as noted by Stephanie Wagner, a child psychologist at the Research Center for Children, University of New York.
“We cannot necessarily say that the fact that children believe in Santa Claus is good, but there is certainly nothing bad about it,” said Dr. Wagner to LiveScience. Christmas unites families and the myth of Santa Claus strengthens these ties, according to the expert.
Meanwhile, Santa Claus gets kids to do… homework. It is perhaps one of the few times when children sit to write a letter with so much zeal, which is important as it teaches good habits.
When the magic goes away
Of course, as with all good things, at a certain moment the story of Santa Claus ends. Children stop believing in their favorite hero at different ages, which often happens “thanks” to a friend from school.
Thus children begin to understand that something is wrong in this story. For example, they can stay awake the night of Christmas Eve to see Santa Claus to… appear with gifts. And when he does not come, they start questioning his existence. The question about what is true and what is not is a normal part of cognitive development, according to Dr. Lormper.
What should parents do
What should parents do if their children ask them if Santa Claus exists? They should essentially decide if their child is really ready to learn the truth. The best way to handle the issue, advises Dr. Lormper, is to ask the child if he or she continues to believe in Santa Claus. If the child’s answer is yes, maybe it is too early to reveal the truth.
Even when the moment of truth comes, the best thing to do is to stress that the spirit of Christmas is real and talk about the real story of St. Nicholas.
Of course there are children who grow up without believing in Santa Claus, either as a part of the culture in which they live, or because their parents have chosen to do so. And this is not a bad thing, according to Dr Lormper. However, in this case parents should tell their children that they should not confuse the Christmas dream of the other children.
In any case, although Santa Claus is only a tradition, “the Christmas spirit that strengthens the human bonds is very true and universal,” concludes Dr. Lormper.