28/11/2017 8:54 PM AEDT | Updated 28/11/2017 8:54 PM AEDT

How To Talk To Kids About Santa

Should you encourage the 'Santa myth'?

Mike Arney / Unsplash
Bags not breaking the news to this little boy.

It's that time of the year again. Department stores are all a-twinkle, carols are starting to play in the supermarket and Santa is making his list and checking it twice.

Good old Santa. He's been bestowing goodies on the lucky children of Australia for decades, but there comes a time when parents have to admit the jig is up.

Perhaps your eldest has noticed there are different Santas at different stores, or is questioning the viability of going around the world in a single night (in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, no less).

So what do you do? And should you encourage the 'Santa myth' in the first place?

"In my opinion, honesty is the best policy," Dr Justin Coulson, one of Australia's leading parenting experts (and father of six) told HuffPost Australia.

"I say to parents from the start, 'if you want to do Santa that's fine, but let the kids know Santa was based on a historical figure who may or may not have done the things that we think he did.

"You can tell them that lots of other people tell kids that Santa is real, and not to spoil that for them, but also you can still have fun at Christmas and at Christmas Eve without having to go along with [the traditions associated with Santa visiting].

"In saying that, with all of our kids, we allowed them to enjoy the Santa myth until they've asked us about it."

For many parents who don't want to 'ruin the fun' before they have to, Coulson's personal approach could be the best way forward. However, when your children do eventually ask, he says it's vital to answer honestly.

"Go along with the Santa myth until they ask you, which is typically around seven years old -- but it can be six or eight -- and let them down gently.

"My recommendation would be to soften the blow with ice cream or some other treat. Respond to them by saying something like 'that's a great question, I've got to go down to the shops, why don't we talk about it on the way?'

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Children may have questions after seeing different Santas at different department stores.

"You might want to ask them 'why are you asking? What have you heard?' and scope it out a little bit.

"Then I'd just be really clean about it. Tell them Santa is not real, but you've had fun telling them about it because it's been so exciting for them.

"Also be sure to tell them that other people don't know yet -- including their little brother or sister or other people at school -- and they have to understand parents will tell their kids in their own time.

"Then ask them, 'would you like Santa to keep coming even though you know it's us?' which is a great way to put it because no kid is ever going to say no to that. Santa can still come during the night but there's probably no need to leave the [milk and cookies] out. And so the magic of Christmas remains."

The Santa myth is a wonderful lie, but the more we tell lies, the more our kids are going to find out we are deceitful.Dr Justin Coulson

Some children may ask about Santa earlier than parents are expecting, but Coulson advised not to be tempted to continue with the facade.

"I think that it's really important that we should tell the truth about Santa. I just think it's important," he said.

"Are the kids going to be okay if we tell them lies about Santa? Look, I think they are. But when we tell them lies, they start to question other things as well.

"The Santa myth is a wonderful lie, but the more we tell lies, the more our kids are going to find out we are deceitful. And we know kids are more likely to be dishonest if the people around them are dishonest.

"I know most people will think that I'm nuts for saying it, but that's what research suggests. Not that it's going to happen when they're five, of course not, but maybe when they are 14 or so."

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A Christmas without Santa is still full of magic.

In terms of the belief that a Christmas without Santa is a Christmas without magic, Coulson says nothing could be further from the truth.

"Kids can hold beliefs about imaginary things and still gain enormous joy from them. They play games constantly with nothing more than their imagination and find it absolutely wonderful," he said.

"Even us, as adults, we watch movies that we know are absolutely not true and yet we love them and are completely absorbed in them.

"This idea of 'if I have to tell kids the truth, Christmas won't be fun any more' -- the argument doesn't stack up.

"You can still continue with the magic of Christmas and the fun of Santa, and lose ourselves in the story and suspend reality. I just think, wherever possible, we should tell our children the truth."