Belief in Santa: useful or devastating for children?


Thou shall not lie, especially not to your children.

But here’s why twisting reality may sometimes help your kids.

 You probably remember your childhood, when Christmas was still a magical event. This magic was most likely associated with, or even based on, the belief in this white-bearded, slightly obese, incredibly efficient, and very generous Santa-guy.

You might even have a clearer memory, the moment you discovered the truth – SPOILER ALERT – that Santa is not real. Technically, his character is based on a real person, Saint Nicholas, who was said to be a kind man. However, the existence of a flying person, who manages to eat billions of half-cookies per day and still fit through your chimney is at the very least improbable.

There are many reasons why you should not keep up the tradition and refuse investing in this extraordinary, massive lie about the existence of Santa. Depending on your moral standard, you may actually reject this construct by default. If we are honest, parents also keep up this lie for their own good: Santa only brings presents to those kids who behave – we can exploit this. Furthermore, the process of discovering the truth behind Santa may put the parents in a vulnerable position. Frankly, children questioning other “facts” the parents have told them would be one of the minor issues. In fact, children may lose trust in their creators completely. Especially if the parent-children relationship was not great to begin with, the Santa lie could put the final nail in the coffin containing the parenthood.

Certainly, I don’t want to be the devil’s advocate in this matter. My goodness, I don’t even have children. But if I did, I would surely take into consideration that believing in Santa has a positive impact on children’s cognitive development.

Cognitive development, or intellectual development, describes the children’s development regarding information processing, perception, thinking, and more brain-related stuff.

Jean Piaget was the first to describe stages of cognitive development. Although subject to major criticism, the general concept of this staging system remains more or less valid. According to Piaget, the “concrete operational stage” from 6 – 13 years is important for cause-effect reasoning concerning reality. Putting this into the Santa perspective, this is the age children start to question the existence of the white-bearded old man. They will look for evidence supporting or rejecting their uncertainty. For example, a half-eaten cookie will be linked to Santa’s existence. This doubting phase also includes questioning the fact that one person can visit billions of children in one night – and why can’t any of the reindeers I know fly? Children, thus, start separating fact from fiction.

This whole process of uncovering the Santa-lie will teach children evidence-based, deductive, and cause-effect reasoning. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? On top of that, psychologists say that fantasy in children promotes creativity in adulthood. Thumbs up, Santa-lie!

Certainly, there are good arguments in favour and against keeping up the Santa-lie. But it might be even more important to take a step back from our cosy, lazy tradition bubble, and just consider the option of not lying about Santa. And after you decided to keep up this whole Santa charade, you can justify your decision and say: I’m only doing it for the sake of my child’s cognitive development!





Image source: (User: Mon-glezz) (EDITED)

Malte Borggrewe