The holidays are a magical time for children. But what happens when your kids stop believing in the magic, especially the jolly old man in the red suit?
Lena Zettler, MA, LPA, director of Psychology at Cook Children’s Medical Center, said there aren’t any psychological guidelines when it comes to believing. But it doesn’t hurt.
“To believe in Santa, requires ‘magical thinking,’ which is a normal process and coping skill that kids possess,” Zettler said. “It is generally a useful coping mechanism for children. However, there is a wide variation as to when kids use less and less magical thinking to cope or understand the world.”
Kids have a lot of magical thinking at the age of 3 and much less of it by age 12. Magical thinking is what allows kids to believe in Santa. But, there are many other factors that also play into this belief: cultural reinforcement, religious beliefs, emotional situations, family stress, family beliefs/customs, peer and sibling beliefs, etc.
Speaking more as a parent than a professional, Zettler said parents should let their kids guide them on this issue. “If a 9 year old wants to stand in line to sit on Santa’s lap at the mall, is that a bad thing? Parents could find the joy in that desire and embrace it too,” she said.
But back to her professional opinion, Zettler said she believes parents worry WAY too much and this is a good example of one thing they shouldn’t get too worried about. She said the magical issue we are addressing is not a developmental task that has to be accomplished by a certain age.
“Let things unfold, I say,” Zettler said. “Let them believe if they want…what does it really hurt? On a lighter note, parents can rest assured, that it is generally an older sibling or cousin that may try to break the big news to their kids anyway.”
Besides, regardless of how old we are, we all want to believe a little bit. Don’t we?