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When do Children Stop Believing in Santa?

Some adults and children might never stop "believing" in Santa Claus.
Santa brings presents to reward good behavior.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 July 2014
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When children stop believing in Santa is variable, and depends much on the way the myths of Santa Claus are presented (if they are in fact presented) in the home. Some children are told the basics of the myth, that Santa is real, comes to their homes on Christmas night, rewards good behavior and punishes bad, and has many magical attributes. When this is the primary teaching, many children stop believing in the story at around the age of eight, though this can vary. As children begin to acquire a certain amount of logic and reasoning skills, they may figure it out on their own or begin to question the existence of Santa when they see presents in the closet before Christmas, or note that all gifts are addressed in Mom or Dad’s handwriting.

Peer relationships also cause speculation, since children will encounter other kids who don’t believe or who have already been told the “truth.” Some children stop believing in Santa when assured by another child he doesn’t exist. Alternately, they may notice Santa is not universal as they acquire friends who don’t celebrate Christmas. Children might also note the disparity between the gifts they receive and those received by friends with parents that have different budgets.

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When some children stop believing in Santa, they may feel betrayed, angry or lied to by their parents. It matters very much how parents have presented Santa. There are many opinions on the merits or the disadvantages of deliberately involving kids in a myth that their parents know not to be true. Some parents hedge and represent Santa as the spirit of giving, so that all giving has a little bit of Santa in it. Usually, when children stop thinking of Santa as a physical being, or if they never have believed in him in this way, figuring out that he isn't "real" doesn’t hit as hard. Other children, who really have a concrete image in their mind, are absolutely devastated when this belief is taken from them, and yet others feel smart they figured it out.

Naturally, parents want to avoid causing unnecessary pain when children stop believing in Santa, so the presentation of Santa is important. This may run contrary to the many Christmas movies and cartoons that assert and reassert Santa’s existence, so parents have to weigh carefully which of these to allow, and what discussions could take place around this issue. It’s also a good idea to be somewhat noncommittal on the issue, instead of committing to a full lie. Allow kids to tell you what they believe, and let them believe as long as they’d like. As they age, and usually before they hit their preteens, they may have figured out Santa as it best works for them. Parents might tell them everybody needs to decide personally what and how to believe.

There are some children and adults who never stop believing, especially when they view Santa as the spirit of Christmas and an extension of Christ. People with this view get to be Santa, and contribute to the mythos of Santa through their kind and generous actions. When children express disillusion in the myth, parents might consider teaching them how to play Santa and be Santa in their own generous actions. Parents can enlist them in charitable work, like picking out or distributing toys to kids who are impoverished, and share with them the joy of getting to act like Santa during the holidays and throughout the year.

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anon347703
Post 55

@anon329610: I think most parents lie to their children about one thing or another, but that doesn't necessarily make them bad parents. If perpetuating a belief in a generous old man who owns a toy workshop keeps a child happy for a few more years, then so be it. Personally, I think parents should present Santa Claus as a mythical person, but also as someone who represents kindness and generosity.

anon329610
Post 54

How can you lie to your children?

anon310723
Post 53

One thing I find unusual about belief in Santa Claus is the obvious parallel with belief in Jesus Christ. Both are presented as all-knowing spirits who can reward children for good behavior or punish them for bad. They both live in faraway lands no one can ever visit, and they both show up everywhere during the Christmas season. The difference is that we're supposed to grow out of a juvenile belief in Santa Claus, but deepen our relationship with Jesus throughout our entire lives.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing at all. There's obviously an entire religion devoted to the worship of God in all forms, including the human form of Jesus Christ. What I'm saying is that fostering a child's belief in a fictional character like Santa Claus has to be a separate act from fostering a belief in Jesus Christ.

If this is not handled well, then once a child becomes old enough to question the existence of Santa Claus, and their parents' reasoning for perpetuating a myth, then he or she might also start questioning his or her belief in Jesus Christ as well. After all, if one childhood icon turned out to be a myth, then why believe in another one who could walk on water or heal the sick or raise the dead?

I understand why parents like the Santa Claus mythology, because it provides a bit of a moral compass (Santa knows if you've been bad or good) and an opportunity to give gifts through a benevolent outsider who enjoys the process. But I also think parents who want to instill lasting ethics and morals in their children should emphasize other examples besides Santa Claus.

anon309235
Post 52

People, if you don't believe in Santa, that's fine, but take it from me, a 10 year old girl, Santa is real. He is something to hold onto for those families who don't have much. I disagree with this website 100 percent.

Almost all my friends are over the age of eight and still believe in Santa. Can't you guys see? Olittlewood, Santa Claus is very real. He has given me presents my parents never would have been able to afford! Merrymom, tell your kid that Santa is real, and he'll be there watching over her. My mom is in her 40s and she still believes!

My Grandma is much older than that and she believes. I don't care if you guys yell at me in disagreement. I will believe what I will because I know it's right.

anon307965
Post 51

Growing up, my mother had OCD before anyone knew what it was. Santa would come at Christmas. I thought this was great how someone could come into our house without all the rules my mom had us all go by.

Even though I found the closet of presents from Santa, I still acted liked I believed just so I could pretend that someone came to visit since my mother would turn visitors away no matter the time of year. So now I have a son and niece and nephew and I keep Santa alive for them.

anon305108
Post 50

The fact that there was a St Nicholas helps me to keep the spirit alive and to combine the religious and secular meanings to Christmas. It is wonderful, I think. For little ones, up to as old as 8 or 9, if you can keep it alive, then share that.

He was real, and the spirit of St Nicholas is a thing of giving and joy for children and adults alike, and Jesus himself loved the little children. I believe he would approve that they feel this joy, along with his message of salvation.

anon304190
Post 49

I am 32 and still believe in Santa. It's crazy. I am married and have two kids and he always comes to visit me. My and my kids leave him cookies and my wife sends us off to bed and she usually stays up to talk on the phone. And we all wake up and he comes every Christmas Day.

anon304004
Post 48

I'm 11 years old, and today I got told that my parents only put presents under the tree, not Santa. I was kind of disappointed, and like ya right, and even cried a little secretly, but I still believe in him in my heart. Peace.

anon303658
Post 47

I stopped believing when I was six and caught my parents putting gifts under the tree. I was very upset that they had been untruthful. My children do not celebrate fictitious characters.

anon280767
Post 46

Never! Because its a big lie! I am only seventeen so I am still a very young child, but when I am older and have my own kids, they will never get told Santa is fake because I would not lie!

anon236564
Post 43

I am 19 and still believing in Santa Claus. I have never seen my parents put presents under the Christmas tree and I always ignored my peers and my sister. There had been a time when I did doubt and was really upset over it, but one experience changed that.

I was about 9 and my family and I went to visit my grandparents, my only relatives in this state. When we came back home, the lights were on and presents were under the tree. I remember my dad being upset over the lights being on. And it wasn't just my house, other houses with lights had theirs on as well. It was very magical.

And before you say it, my neighbors did not do it. My parents trust no one and my mom told me from a young age that she would never trust a neighbor with the key to our house. Until that event is explained to me, and until someone can explain to me how I actually saw Santa myself when I was 12, I will believe. Heck, I'll believe even if that is proved. So I think you should let the kids believe fully. Let them believe, because it might really be true.

anon235945
Post 42

I was 13 when I stopped believing in Santa. I would have kept believing if it wasn't for the fact I didn't get a single present for Christmas and my 18 year old brother did. And if Santa was real, I guarantee he would have made the Naughty List.

I suggest letting kids believe as long as they want. Otherwise they may turn into a Grinch when they get older, or not even remember how Christmas morning as a kid feels. I don't and I'm only 16.

anon234072
Post 41

We just told our son today and I really regret not getting through one more Christmas. It came up at school this week. Kids were telling him "there is no Santa Claus, it's just your parents doing all that stuff". So, my wife and I talked and we decided to tell him. We were concerned that he would think we were liars all these years, but we did a good job explaining the why.

I just wish we would have waited till after this Christmas. We've had so much fun leaving reindeer food out, writing letters to Santa etc. It really made Christmas special.

anon233566
Post 40

Help! My four year old is questioning Santa already. "Why is Santa so much smaller today than when we saw him a couple of days ago? Is it really just a person dressed up to look like him?" How do I help him believe?

anon232865
Post 39

My son is 7 and still believes in Santa but I think he is starting to question a little bit. I always told him Santa can only give one toy to each child so he never expects much from the big guy. He does believe in the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and birthday fairy (can't even remember how that one got started).

I know all kids will eventually outgrow Santa, but the spirit should be with everyone. His classmates have told him there was no Santa and he just said "you're wrong. Just because you don't believe in him anymore doesn't mean he doesn't exist". I think that sums it all up.

anon232862
Post 38

@230313: My son is 11 years old and feels the EXACT same way. He discovered the truth a couple of years ago and Christmas Eve has been really hard - he told me he was glad I didn't continue to "force" him to believe once he'd figured it out, but he also wishes he still believed because believing was so much fun and he's not yet old enough to have the fun of being Santa the way the grown-ups do. I struggle with how to help him get past that sadness and over to the other side where the joy of Christmas is in all the goodness and love that abounds during the season, but I know that will take some time.

Anyway, I know that isn't useful advice; just wanted you to know you aren't alone and your feelings make perfectly good sense. I would just caution that you try not to dwell on that sad feeling and seek out the good instead, because Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year - Santa or not. Merry Christmas.

anon232550
Post 37

@anon230313: You have the right to be angry but I'm pretty sure it wasn't done with the intention of being deceitful to you. But, lying is wrong, and adults do many things that are wrong. What we want to do is learn from our experiences, and I think the stories shared here will help some adults to see that we can and should do better. So thank you for sharing yours.

The joy we can feel from giving and receiving is real, and it should be even more joyful when it happens between real people, not less so.

I would encourage you to hold on to the understanding you gained from this experience, but not to do so in bitterness. We humans love to imagine and we can be very superstitious if we aren't careful.

anon230313
Post 36

I found out that Santa wasn't real on a guide camp, when I was 10, and everyone in my tent said he wasn't real. I wasn't sure whether to believe them at first, so once I was at home again, I researched him and found out he wasn't real. My friends at school also said he wasn't real. Then maybe about a week later (when I was 11) she told me he wasn't real and I was so sad. I cried myself to sleep.

I am still 11 and I am not looking forward to Christmas this year because it will make me sad and there won't be much to look forward to, plus, I will see my younger cousins who still believe in Santa, and I will feel sorry for them because they think he is real, but I will also feel jealous because I wish I still believed. I am really sad because it is quite close to Christmas. I think it is wrong to tell lies to children about Santa and the tooth fairy. I was devastated when I found out the tooth fairy and Santa weren't real!

anon227850
Post 35

I am 18 and I still believe because it makes christmas all the more fun, and why would parents want to ruin their children's ability to believe in things!

anon169946
Post 34

When I was in third grade (8 and 9 year olds), there was only one kid who still believed in Santa. She was, of course, teased mercilessly. I did not want my kid to go through that, so when she was that age I told her. She cried. Then she asked me if the tooth fairy and Easter bunny were big fat lies as well. I thought she was joking. Ten years later, she told me she was crushed.

At age 5 she had refused to mail her toy list to Santa until "Daddy" had a chance to make a copy of the list of toys. I thought she was humoring the grown ups. I was only four or five when I started laughing at the premise of Santa. Now my little one is nine.

anon137189
Post 33

My son is five and it is so cute. He put out the cookies and milk for santa. His eyes are so full of excitement that they look they will burst.

I believe the same as some of the others. Santa does exist. He is the spirit of Christmas. He represents the generous and caring part of mankind. As long as a person believes that the spirit will stay with you, your children, and grandchildren.

anon136837
Post 32

i believed in santa until i was 13 and I'm really happy that i did. i don't think someone should tell their children that there isn't such a man. i mean they will find out that there's no elves involved, but i mean santa isn't a man, though he's the spirit of christmas.

kearbear2k9
Post 31

why are there so many websites for children that say of course santa is real. we know he was real years ago (st nick ) but he's not now. stop lying. when they get to at least 10 or 11 you should tell them and if they find out themselves, let them. That's life.

anon136604
Post 30

I'm 11 and i really thought santa is real and i kept nagging my sister to tell me. i sort of knew at the start that he wasn't real the way my mum and dad act, but all my other brothers and sisters believe and I kept asking questions like is santa claus real? i don't know if i should tell her but am not going to. it's christmas you know, and i can't ruin it. she'll tell my younger sister.

anon136181
Post 29

@anon66595: To answer your question of whether or not santa exists is very difficult. As you have probably found out by now, physically the man isn't real. But Santa exists in the essence of your loving family who obviously care about you very much. True, there is no man that flies around in a single night delivering presents to every home in the world but there is your family who provide you with the joy of believing in him.

anon135642
Post 28

I stopped believing in the "physical" Santa when I was 12. However, I'm one of the lucky few who still occasionally looks to the sky on Christmas Eve because I still want to believe. I see Santa for what he stands for: a generous and caring saint.

I help out at many food drives, toy drives and other nonprofits all through the year to keep the spirit alive. While I may not believe in Santa as a physical being, I cannot deny the magic in the air on Christmas Eve.

Children should believe in Santa for as long as they wish. Santa is real; it all depends on what part of him you believe in.

anon133339
Post 27

I have two boys, six and eight, both of whom believe in Santa, fairies and the Easter Bunny. My eight year old is the youngest in his third grade class due to how his birthday falls.

Due to living in NJ and parents having the choice to hold their kids back a year (can't do this in the UK), there is almost a two year gap between him and some of the kids in his class, so I feel I have little option but to let him know before his next school year.

I think I'll take him fishing around May (just me an him) and spill the beans, assuming he hasn't already worked it out. Don't see the point in telling him this close to xmas as no good will come from it, just disappointment. Letting him know around May will give him plenty of time to get used to it without the constant reminders that may also lead to his little brother also finding out.

anon132901
Post 26

My grandchild is in seventh grade. Her teacher decided to tell the kids there was no Santa Claus and no Easter bunny or Tooth Fairy. The kids were devastated. It was not her place to tell them.

anon124561
Post 23

I stopped believing when I was four. First I noticed that if all of the items were created by Santa, then why did they have barcodes and prices printed on them? I also noticed that the way they were labeled was very peculiar, not to mention I also thought that Santa should go to jail because he would have to break into our house to give us presents, and our fireplace is electric.

Now that I think about it, I pretty quickly destroyed any mythical creation that was passed to me, rather quickly.

anon121946
Post 22

well last night I sat and told my son the truth about Santa, and now I feel physically sick! I had created magic throughout the last 9 years and in an instant took it all away just because i thought it was wrong to keep lying.

My son said also that he wishes I hadn't told him. His classmates bullied him for a while and because he's an only child he's normally the last to know anything and gets teased. The other children have older siblings and some already don't believe, and I wanted to save him from being teased and to keep hold of the trust we have in our relationship. Now I feel like I have ruined everything and need to rebuild some of what I have just undone.

anon121752
Post 21

i don't remember what age i was when i stopped believing in santa, but i do remember the day and the friend and the street we were on when she told me.

From the information i remember, this does mean i was still in primary school at least. I remember exactly how i felt. Really let down and yes, i felt betrayed and lied to by my parents.

I have never forgotten that feeling. The feeling of betrayal and distrust didn't last long, especially after i asked my mum and she told me this was true but i remember it changed the way i acted and felt on christmas morning that year.

In a way i wish she had kept the truth until a few days after that christmas as i had been so looking forward to it like all the others and the build up as usual was terribly exciting and all of a sudden it was as if i didn't have that right to feel excitement. In fact, knowing the truth so close to christmas day that year made me feel a bit stupid on christmas day itself.

I remember forgetting for a moment here and there with me occasionally jumping up and down as i picked up presents turning round in excitiement to show my parents what i got from santa only to suddenly stop mid sentence and feel dumb and then correct myself by saying something like, oh yes but you know already don't you cause it was you who got it.

Despite going through all that it hasn't done me any harm. They were short lived feelings and disappointment and i knew i couldn't dislike my parents for it because i was also old enough to work out for myself that they kept up the belief as a 'good' thing, for me.

Looking back, i think it was the timing more than anything else, just a few days before christmas or weeks. My eldest has just turned 8 and when she was 7 she told me what some people said in the playground but i could see that she was only curious to know why they would say this. she didn't act or sound like she felt or believed santa wasn't true. She is showing a couple of signs here and there as though she is starting to question it herself, but i will wait until she asks me properly and i will probably just wink at her to let her know. i also will make sure that she knows months in advance of any christmas and make sure she doesn't let the cat out the bag for her younger siblings who are only 3 and 6.

anon116721
Post 20

@merrymom: I am so glad to hear there are still kids that want to stay young. I was much like your child, and my parents never told me "the truth". I never truly stopped believing!

I slowly lost belief with each year, only because I knew mire about science and physics. It happens to everyone!

If I were you, let her live her childhood in peace while she still can. If kids keep making fun of her, remember to tell her that she is allowed to have her own little miracle on Earth, and if it makes her happy to believe in Santa Claus, that she had every right in the world. After all, if everyone was more like your sweet girl, would the world not be a more caring and loving one?

anon74691
Post 19

Shouldn't lie to children. End of discussion.

anon71795
Post 18

My daughter is seven (will be eight in August). I am an atheist. We celebrate Christmas/holidays (secular). She believes in Santa and will continue to get Santa presents even after she tells me she doesn't. It is as much for me as it is for her.

I love watching her at Christmas get so excited. I am a realist and hopefully she will just play happy and excited for me. I will know she doesn't believe in the big guy but I hope I have given her the ability to give and receive gifts, willingly and graciously.

anon66595
Post 16

I'm 12 years old and i really want to know if he is real. please tell me. it's hard to believe because my family is poor and we still get heaps of presents!

anon64663
Post 15

I agree 45570! This year, my 9 year-old-niece started to really question the existence of Santa. Clearly, it was a topic up for debate at her school among her classmates. I was a little taken aback when, instead of taking the opportunity to explain the truth when asked, all her family continued to sell her hard on Santa being real! I could not help but feel sorry for her being ridiculed by friends at school who know the truth!

anon59888
Post 14

I'm 12, and my parents told me from when I could talk that Santa was not real. I don't think I've lost much by it. We're a Christian family, and we give each other presents. Besides, even if you figure in time zones, Santa has to hit about sixteen houses a second with presents for it to work, and the sleigh would spontaneously combust because of the speed. Roasted reindeer for everyone!

anon57672
Post 13

My son is only three and this year was really the first year we went crazy with the idea of Santa. We will continue to enjoy the amazing feeling it brings until he doesn't believe anymore. I have great Christmas memories of my childhood. Although I can't remember how or when I found out he wasn't real, I think it was so gradual it didn't really bother me when it happened. I think that's the case for a lot of people.

Either way, i do not know anyone that felt betrayed and angry with their parents when they found out. I think that that is a very rare case. And I'm sorry someone had to feel that.

My wife and I are Christians and will not only use the story of Santa for Christmas but will also use what we believe is the true meaning of Christmas. And I've always believed I would bring in the real story of the true and original St. Nicholas when my children find out that Santa Claus isn't real.

I'll explain how important it is to live a life full of giving and loving actions. How the thoughts of "Peace on earth and goodwill to all" is important to keep with in our hearts.

Santa Claus as he or she may have known might not exactly exist, but the idea was brought up because of a real person and the ideas of Christmas are true and alive.

anon57605
Post 12

anon45570 - you are so wrong. Stop being so serious and have some fun. Santa is fun. Sorry if you were robbed the fun spirit of Santa.

anon57589
Post 11

Pardon my analogy, but it does appear that Santa myth is like sex knowledge. Kids figure it out by themselves and only responsible parents provide right information at the right age in the right manner.

Personally speaking, I would let my kid know about Santa as soon as he/she starts comprehending stuff. Truly believing in myths can be very detrimental to the kids.

anon57206
Post 10

Anon45570 is wrong. There is nothing wrong with believing in Santa as a child. It is one of my best memories and it will be for my children, too. My fourth grader sill believes and this is probably my last year to have fun with it. People need to stop being so serious. It does not betray a child's trust. It is just a fun way of celebrating Christmas!

I have a Jewish husband and he even loves the magic of Santa!

anon53104
Post 9

This will be the 1st year my girls don't believe in santa. they are 10 and 11.

i am so bummed about this and though i finally told my 10 year old he wasn't real i only did it because she was so frustrated.

i wonder if there is a way to re-introduce it to them as pre teens and still have fun with it? any suggestions?

anon45570
Post 8

I think the myth of Santa is a travesty to childhood intelligence and personhood. Parent-child trust plays an extremely important role in building up the child's epistemological foundation, and the myth of Santa betrays that trust. After all, many children believe in God on the basis of testimony, so when they discover that Santa is a fabrication, why should they continue to believe in God? As a theist, I find the myth of Santa offensive – it gives atheists the excuse “I don’t believe in God just like I don't believe in Santa anymore.” I felt betrayed when I figured out Santa does not exist, so I don't plan on spreading the lie to my children. I think a much better option would be to take a more Catholic/Eastern Orthodox approach in explaining the history of the actual, historical figure Saint Nicholas.

anon34347
Post 7

I believed in Santa until I was 9 I think, my close friends still believed in him too. I guess that's kind of old, but it was fun believing in Santa. I never really bought the Easter bunny thing. My sister figured it out quite a bit earlier because my mom mixed up some of the 'from Santa' gifts with the 'from mom and dad' gifts.

anon23432
Post 6

Yeah, I stopped believing when I was like 4-5 years old. I don't have any memories believing in him. Pretty sad in a way, the whole thing seemed so absurd and I used to argue with my parents and kids in my 4th grade class (4th grade's kinda old, huh?).

I do have a memory somewhere around 4 though, when I remember believing in the easter bunny.

merrymom
Post 5

I have a 13 year old daughter that still very much believes in Santa. Even though her classmates have tried to tell her and have made fun of her for her belief. How do I OR do I tell her the "truth" about Santa?

anon17948
Post 3

My 9 year old daughter still believes in Santa and i am with her all the way....There needs to be a little more magic in this world...Santa doesn't have to be over generous with gifts...just one from santa left by the bed...We all need to feel like a child sometimes and christmas eve is the perfect time...Just laying having a cuddle with your child listening for sleighbells....It harms no one and benefits the soul immensely...Merry christmas to all x Wont be long now x Try and remember how excited you felt as a child...Oh and you don't have to say he's real just say that you believe... its everyones right as a individual to have their own opinion....

anon14956
Post 2

I recall being afraid to ask my mom if Santa wasn't real - doubt may cause no presents, similar to questioning the reality of a god for fear of smiting! I was very upset when Mom admitted that the rumors at school were true - no Santa. I googled this topic for this reason: my boyfriend's daughter is 10 and just finished reading The Diary of Anne Frank. In the book, Anne tells wanting to be touched by a boy and how one gets pregnant and how the baby gets out. She'd known about the monthly cycle but this was news, I knew. She still vehemently claims to believe in Santa (her 8 year old brother is skeptical) and I can't help but find it a humorous conflict that this girl knows where babies come from and what sex really is... but still believes the fat guy in the red suit visits every house in one night. She's a smart girl - I think she's chosen to deny the rumors to keep up the spirit indefinitely.

olittlewood
Post 1

my five year old son asked me why there are so many santas around, and i informed him that because the real santa is so busy up in the north pole getting ready for christmas, he needs lots of helpers all over the world. so he has helper santas and elves strategically located in malls and christmas parties to do his work. they then convey the childrens' wishes to the top santa so he can get their presents to them. kids also love writing letters to santa--it keeps the dream alive! i am not looking forward to the day that my children realize that santa is not "real." i don't remember it being a traumatic experience for me, i just realized that, well, the story of santa came from a real person and that's good enough for me. also, show your children that there are many good, generous people in the world--including them, and i don't think losing that dream of santa will every truly happen!

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