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Help: My 12-year-old still believes in Santa

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The question

My 12-year-old still believes in Santa. It's embarrassing, but he's still so hopeful and it's endearing. I feel responsible. How do I tell him without crushing his spirit?

The answer

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The short answer? Tell him the truth.

The longer answer is that, for me, one of the most amazing things about children is the innocence and enthusiasm of their beliefs. Parents can feel heartbroken, shattering these beliefs with the reality of life - particularly when they have such awe about the wonders of the world.

However, this is a part of raising a child and preparing them for the real world. Remember that children can be cruel, and given that he is of an age where the majority of kids know and accept that Santa does not exist - let him know sooner rather than later so that he is not unnecessarily teased.

Keep in mind that our modern day Santa has several core roots, including Saint Nicholas who was a historical saint and bishop from the 4th Century. So, there is in fact a historic Santa that does exist – just not the way your son (and most other children) believe. This is important to communicate to him when you break the news – so that he does not feel that he has been told a completely fabricated piece of information.

See this as a teaching opportunity. You can introduce the topic by telling your child of Saint Nicholas and how he was recognized and admired for his secret gift-giving. You can talk about the value behind unconditional giving to those that are less fortunate and in need.

And then you can gently let your son know that there are actually many "Santa-type" people in the world – that care for and give to others, such as parents, grandparents and other loved ones. Depending on his intellectual maturity, you can describe to him that the Santa portrayed in the media and in the public is a metaphor for or a symbol of those that give.

And ultimately you can let him know that it is you, not the big man in red, who provides him with gifts.

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He may get upset or tearful. He may ask you why you have lied – and you should be honest. State that this is part of the tradition of Christmas, it is part of what makes Christmas fun, and that virtually all other kids (and likely you, at one point) believe in Santa.

Remember - parents have been breaking the news that Santa really doesn't exist for decades, and will continue to do so with no evidence of any long term damage to kids.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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