Should Parents Introduce Fantasies During the Magic Years?

One of the dilemmas for parents who celebrate Christmas is whether or not to introduce the concept of Santa Claus, knowing that they are in truth lying to their children about the reality of a jolly old man who visits all the good boys and girls and delivers presents on Christmas night.

Then comes the dilemma of perpetuating that belief

What do parents do, especially as children get older and begin to question how practical such an “accomplishment” actually is.

Movies like The Polar Express and Miracle on 34th Street encourage children to embrace the fantasy. The famous editorial, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus offers an explanation that resonates with many parents who want their children to bridge the belief in a literal Santa Claus to an understanding of the invisible, more abstract nature of kindness and generosity.

There are other more universal fantasies many parents share with their children: the tooth fairy, the Easter Bunny, leprechauns with their pots of gold and perhaps even The Great Pumpkin inspired by Charles Schultz.

How do children think and believe during the magic years?

Selma Freiberg wrote her classic book The Magic Years in 1959, in which she described how children before the ages of seven or eight live in a kind of fantasy world in their own developing minds. During these ages, they easily believe in mystical forces and imaginary people.

Fraiberg tells a delightful story of parents who wanted their children only to be provided factual information about life and so proceeded to tell their young child the specifics of how human reproduction occurs. Apparently the child dutifully learned what the parents were sharing and could repeat it back on demand.

But when Dr. Fraiberg asked the child what she really thought, she had her own fanciful explanation. She stated how silly it was to think that there were microscopic eggs inside a woman that could magically be transformed into a baby because this other microscopic thing called the sperm connected with an egg. “Now that,” thought the child, “was crazy!”

It might be comforting then for parents to know that the mind of a child before the age of seven or eight is already primed to embrace fanciful stories like that of believing in Santa Claus.

A parenting expert once described the value in allowing children not to feel yet one more obligation that their parents provide them with everything.

When the time finally comes to break the news to children that Santa Claus is a fantasy figure, parents can benefit from providing a gentle, loving explanation of this beloved myth that has been shared for many generations.

I recommend that parents check out the description provided in the blog with the title “If your kid stops believing in Santa Claus” for some valuable suggestions and sensitive ways to address children’s questions.

Please know that you are not hurting your children by allowing them to believe in the magical figure of Santa Claus.

When they step into the realities that this fanciful story is something parents share with them to increase their excitement and joy about Christmas, they can then take pleasure in watching younger children caught up in the wonder and excitement of anticipating a visit from Santa Claus.

Invitation to Reflect

1.       If you grew up believing in Santa Claus, do you have childhood memories of being excited when anticipating a visit from him on Christmas night?

2.       If so, what is your story about learning the truth? Was it handled in a sensitive way?

3.       If not Santa Claus, were there other magical, imaginary figures that were part of your childhood? How did your belief in them impact you? How did you experience learning the truth about their existence?

4.       How do you feel about sharing and embellishing on imaginary figures with your young children? What are some of the benefits? What are some of your concerns? What are some ways you can bridge the shift from magical thinking to more factual thinking when your children are old enough to begin questioning those realities?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Institute for Professional Education and Development, Lakeside Educational Network