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Parents Have Much to Consider When Deciding How to Talk to Children About Santa Claus, Says Kansas State University Expert

12/16/2004 12:56:00 PM


To: National Desk

Contact: Bronwyn Fees of Kansas State University, 785-532-1476 or [email protected]

MANHATTAN, Kansas /Dec. 16 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released today by Kansas State University: Is there a Santa Claus?

Should parents tell their children there is one when, clearly, they cannot prove reindeer fly?

Bronwyn Fees, associate professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, said what parents tell their children about the jolly man in red takes thoughtful consideration.

"It is fairly typical in this American culture to want to know 'the truth' -- to possess a definitive answer to problems or issues,'" Fees said. "In a complicated world, wouldn't it be nice to be able to have such an answer? But I do not have the answer for Santa."

Although Fees said parents have to decide for themselves how to handle the question of Santa, she provides some research findings and additional information for parents to consider when making the decision:

Fees said she knows of no studies proving children's outcomes are related to their belief in Santa.

"I do not know of any evidence that this story about a generous man has caused children to be more or less creative, physically fit, mentally strong or unstable, ready for school, or even, more or less suspicious of strangers," she said.

However, Fees said believing in Santa can almost be a relief from the rush of modern life.

"In a world of reality-based shows that confront us with murder, deceit, dishonesty and eating culturally inappropriate items, wouldn't it be nice to think that there really is someone who cares about us all, all of the time?" she said. "Someone omniscient, knowing when we are good or bad, holding us accountable and fair in handing out rewards and punishment?"

The story of Santa Claus is engaging because it is believable for young children, Fees said.

"The hallmark of a child's world is make-believe play, rich in opportunities to experiment, explore, test and resolve situations," she said. "And research is clear -- the more children engage in play and become familiar with their physical world, the better able they are to understand the people and materials around them.

"The child's limited experience with their environment perpetuates the belief in magical powers or supernatural beings for events they cannot yet explain," she said.

Children's literature is full of fairy tales. Some psychologists suggest that although fairy tales may not teach children the skills to function in a modern society, they do help children in their attempts to find meaning in the actions of others, to understand themselves and to cope with the inconsistencies of life. Stories, including fairy tales, help children reason about moral behavior as well as help confront and resolve problems.

Although children enjoy the tale of Santa, Fees said they still may be cautious of him in person. She recommends parents never insist their child sit on Santa's lap; it's natural for children to be cautious of strangers, she said, so parents should be careful not to contradict these feelings.

As children grow older, they begin to notice the discrepancies believing in Santa brings: How does Santa bring presents to children in houses with no chimneys? Isn't going into someone else's home uninvited against the law? How does such a large man get down the chimney? How does Santa Claus circle the earth in one night? Can reindeer really fly? These questions show an appreciation of reality and the gradual development of deductive reasoning in children, Fees said.

This universal change in thinking leads most children between the ages of 6 and 8 years to discover that Santa is not a real person. Although children might express some disappointment in the discovery, research suggests it is short lived. The greatest sadness may be within the parents, Fees said, who no longer get to help perpetuate the magic of Santa.

Fees said as her children began to bring up questions about Santa Claus, she and her husband discussed each one as they emerged.

"Gradually, as their logic grew more complex and they could mentally handle more information at one time, we also shared with them the legend of a real man who was very kind and generous to children and families," she said. Her children began to understand that people were so moved by his actions they carried forward these acts of giving and caring.

Encouraging a child to ask questions and explore possibilities gives the parent a "window" to see and understand how their child thinks and feels, Fees said.

All in all, Fees said families spending time together conversing can create stronger, more responsive relationships. She said the earlier and more frequently adults read stories to children, the stronger their reading skills become. Repetition and rhyme in stories literally stimulate the brain, encourage the imagination and enhance vocabulary development.

"The story of Santa Claus is a composite of many stories across cultures and across time retold by generations in multiple versions as people interpret what they hear based on their own experiences," she said. "Carefully select the version that best fits your values."


Code name: Felix
6,361 Posts
I tried telling my two boys when the time came around for them to know, but I couldn't explain the reindeer crap outside my front door.

3,690 Posts
No problem with Santa Claus, but I heard John Walters on the radio recently explaining that the Easter Bunny is responsible for heroin addiction in the United States. With Santa Claus, it takes the kid a while to catch on. But every kid knows from the very beginning that the Easter Bunny is a lie - so adults must be lying about everything else, too, includign the dangers of heroin. "Sure, sure, there's an Easter Bunny. Pass me that syringe."
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