How many parents have dressed up in bright red suits over the Christmas season, or slipped a shiny, R5.00 coin into their child’s slipper in return for a lost milk tooth? For me, growing up with the knowledge that a sparkling moon-dusted fairy may possibly be floating around my home when I had lost a tooth or that a jovial and jolly man dressed in red arrived on the eve of Christmas Eve with a bag full of gifts – made my childhood that little bit more magical.
However, there are a lot of parents who have decided that their children should never be taught about fabled characters that don’t exist. They are of the belief that if they pretend that a bunny weighted down with chocolate eggs does exist; they are teaching their kids that lying is okay. If they lie blatantly to their children and continue to spread the myth about the North Pole and the world of tooth fairies and Easter Bunnies that their children will never trust them, once the truth is revealed.
Another reason why parents are refusing to sell the fable to their children is because they feel that too much emphasis is placed on the actual receiving of gifts and that the real meaning of Christmas is forgotten. Others loath the fact that kids are bribed to -be good boys and girls’ throughout the year with the promise that if they’re extra good, an overweight man in a red suit will arrive with a sled load of goodies as a reward for good behaviour. Some parents feel that if they don’t get their kids hooked on the whole idea that Santa delivers an armful presents on Christmas, their kids will not be disappointed when they find out that this merry old man doesn’t exist. So they feel that by not selling the idea in the first place, they can spare their kid’s from disappointment.
Do you feel that if you pretend that these fictional characters are real that you are deliberately lying to your children (albeit it a white lie) and that in so doing their trust in you will be diminished? Does Father Christmas and his bag full of gifts and goodies for good boys and girls lessen the true meaning and significance of Christmas, and why we celebrate it in the first place?
The Father Christmas debate
The reality of the situation is that there can be a Christmas without Santa. Parents can and should teach their kids the true meaning of Christmas but they can still encourage them to believe in a kind and loving old man from the North Pole who arrives on the eve on Christmas. Encouraging kids to believe in Santa Claus or as we know him, Father Christmas, helps kids to use their imaginations and picture a world where anything is possible. Where it does not matter that a sleigh which drawn by magical reindeer could not possibly make it around the world in one night! Imagination is so important, and so is the ability to believe in things we can’t always see, touch or feel. If you share the idea of Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny to your son or daughter, you are lying to your child about the existence on these harmless, kind and caring fictional characters; but without a world of make-believe and fantasy – childhood may lose its magical feel.
What the experts say
The common view that is shared by the majority of child psychologists and child developmental experts is that parents who do tell their children about Father Christmas along with the other common fantasy characters are doing no harm. Think about the fairytales that we read to our children – did Goldilocks and Three Bears ever exist? Was there really a granny-eating wolf living in the woods? The fact is that a good imagination is important, and it is crucial for very young children. Children learn through play and when they are told tales about tiny dwarfs or curious monkeys, their imaginations are sparked and they learn to play whimsical games, which are critical for their development.
Think of a little girl who is playing with a doll. She will mimic the actions of her mother, by caring for and nurturing her doll and this -play’ is preparing her for a future role as a mother. When children are given permission or encouraged to believe in make-believe worlds which have make-believe characters, their ability to envision an alternative way for world is enhanced. As adults that ability is what opens up the door for new inventions and innovation.
There are experts who believe that by promoting a world fantasy, parents encourage children’s critical and independent thinking. When a child questions their parents about the Easter Bunny’s habits, or when they quiz parents on how the Bunny or Santa is able to move around so fast, parents can ask kids for their own explanations and let them come up with their own ideas.
The end of the fantasy
Parents who do want their children to believe in these child-loving, jovial characters, want them to believe for as long as possible. When kids stop believing, it’s a sign that they are growing up and questioning the facts. Eventually, children will figure it all out! Use this opportunity to explain to kids why you encouraged them to believe in the man in the bright red suit or in the tooth fairy.
There is no research that proves that by lying to your kids about mythical characters that you are harming the bond of trust between parent and child, and you are not condoning lying. Let’s be honest, as adults we believe in things such as love, hope, faith and trust – none of which can be touched or seen – but the effects of all can be felt.
The decision to go along with the story about the age-old tradition of a jolly man who loves biscuits and milk is a personal decision that parents need to make on their own! For parents who want these cheerful characters to be a part of their child’s childhood fantasies – you are not damaging your child in any way but simply sharing your own childhood beliefs with your child.