As a child growing up, I used to love singing the song “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I don’t remember anymore though whether I believed that it was Santa who brought us gifts on Christmas Day – probably because I was too psyched about spending time together as a complete family! (We used to be based overseas, with my older siblings based in the Philippines).
Now that I am a parent myself, I had to consider whether I’d be introducing the concept of Santa to my own kids. Since we started homeschooling our kids, we’ve been very particular about what we teach them – and that includes introducing characters like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to them (the latter, we definitely did not!).
Carole S. Slotterback, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the author of The Psychology of Santa, wrote an article about Santa Claus, titled “What Children Want To Hear,” for the New York Times.
She writes: “Myths and stories about Santa Claus permeate our society. Even if your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, your children may still believe in the big man. For example, psychological research in the 1980s found that even Jewish children believed in Santa. But at some point these beliefs change.”
Slotterback goes on to say that children’s conceptualization of Santa changes largely due to their cognitive development, meaning that their belief in Santa decreases as their level of reasoning increases.
However, this is not a perfect relationship, as some children still believe in Santa even if they have “advanced” reasoning abilities. Slotterback says this could be due to “incentives from parents and others.” Thus, Slotterback’s advice to parents with children who are curious about Santa (honestly, who wouldn’t be if they were “bombarded” with images of Santa all throughout the holidays?) is thus:
“Answer the questions your child has as they come up. Keep in mind that although you may go through a long explanation, your child will hear only what he/she wants to hear and is ready to hear — probably only a small sound byte of your explanation. They, like everyone else, filter everything through the information they have acquired and the experiences they have had.”