Q&A | How to Talk to Kids about Santa

Are you wondering how to talk to your kids about Santa? That’s what we are chatting about today.

Actually, I’m introducing something brand new today! Starting in 2020, I’ll be adding a second weekly episode to the Simple Families Podcast. In addition to the regular weekly episode, I’ll be adding a shorter form episode. Today, I’m sharing an example of how exactly this will look.

The new episode will be in two main parts: We’ll start the episode off with a Q&A segment where I answer a question from an audience member. Then, we’ll move on and discuss “Something Simple” that I am loving each week–which may be a concept, a book, a product or anything else.

I invite you to send me your contributions for the show!

Show Notes/List

Full Episode Transcription

You can listen to this episode of the Simple Families podcast in the player above or in your favorite podcast app. Or you can read the full transcript.

How to Talk to Kids about Santa

Are you wondering how to talk to your kids about Santa? This week’s question from an audience member comes from Amy, who has some questions about how we handle Santa Claus in our house. Here’s what she asked:

“I’m the mother of two young children in Seattle and a big fan of the podcast. I also read your book and loved it. I also love your occasional emails where you list your favorite things and some of those things have become our favorite things too. I write today because I’m wondering how you approach the topic of Santa with your kids. I value your opinion and I’ve found that I agree with your parenting style and advice so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. You mentioned that your kids see Santa and get one gift from him each year (correct me if I’m wrong), and that sounds like something I’d be onboard with.

My oldest daughter is three and doesn’t know of Santa or anything about him, so I’m unsure of how to approach this topic with her. I don’t mind her believing in Santa but don’t really want to encourage it and I don’t feel comfortable with flat out lying with her either. I’m planning on letting her ask questions as they come, but do I even bring her to sit on Santa’s lap this year? How do I explain this very odd tradition in our culture or even start the conversation?”

Amy, Seattle, WA

Amy, thanks for your email and your kind words. I’ll tell you how we do it. Now, of course this is going to be different for every single family. I felt a lot like Amy when we first started talking about Santa Claus. I didn’t feel like I needed to shut down the topic altogether or tell my kids straight out there’s no such thing, but I also didn’t feel entirely comfortable lying to them either. At this point, with my kids being three and six, I do feel like we’ve found a middle ground, at least for the time being. As you mentioned, yes, Amy, my kids get one gift from Santa. Each year I ask them what they want Santa to give them and it’s just one thing, it’s not a whole list.

Last year we did visit Santa. We happened to be at the Macy’s on 34th Street in New York City and it felt like we should go see the Santa, because I’m pretty sure if there is such thing as a real Santa, that’s where he lives. We stood in line for probably about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, and we got to see Santa. I have to say, I was a little bit taken aback because it’s actually like a Santa factory. I think there were like a dozen different Santa Clauses in different rooms at this Macy’s. It’s kind of hidden from the kids, but also kind of not. I definitely got a side glance of another Santa as we were sitting on a Santa’s lap. Anyways, I digress.

So yes, we have done the sitting on Santa’s lap and my kids have really never freaked out or gotten upset about it. If you love having pictures of your kid on Santa’s lap, crying pictures, that sort of thing, go for it. I’m in the take it or leave it mindset, where, sure, a picture with Santa is nice, but at the same time I don’t need to have one every year. There are lots of other types of holiday pictures that you can get aside from just sitting in Santa’s lap.

After last year’s experience, I told my kids this year that they could pick. We could either write a letter to Santa or we could go sit on his lap, because from a common sense standpoint, you really don’t need to do both. Either you’re going to go see him and tell him what you want or you’re going to write a letter to him. Fortunately for me, my kids chose that they wanted to write a letter, so we don’t have to stand in line to see Santa this year. Not far from our house there is a nursery where they sell Christmas trees and they also have a little mailbox that is specifically for Santa letters. So this past weekend my kids wrote a letter to Santa, which is just a great handwriting activity, and they listed the one thing they wanted and we took them to put it in the mailbox.

I don’t talk about Santa with my kids. Not that I avoid it, I just don’t bring it up. I don’t make him a big part of the holiday season. I think I don’t have to, because society does it. Whether it’s pictures on billboards or advertisements, you name it, Santa is everywhere. So I don’t personally push the Santa issue with my kids and I think that that has, as a result, made them less oriented to want to see him and talk about him and to make a list for him and that sort of thing. Because we don’t put a ton of excitement into the Santa aspect of Christmas, my kids also haven’t been super, super into the idea either. I think it’s an aspect of the holiday that they enjoy, but it’s not the one most central piece of the holiday season.

Christmas morning will come and my kids will get a gift from Santa, and I try to mostly honor what they want. This year my son wants the 2019 Hess truck and my daughter wants a male stuffed bunny from Poland. She’s the queen of random, I like to say. But that’s all that’s on our list this year, that’s all she asked for is a male Polish bunny. So because those are both reasonable things, my kids are getting both of those things this year.

We, as in my husband and I, are also gifting a gift to my kids. We’re getting my daughter a bedding set for her bed, a quilt with sheets and a pillowcase, and we got my son a new scooter because he previously had a three-wheeled scooter and it’s worn down and now we’re moving him to a two-wheeled scooter, so we got him the Razor A5. My kids will get gifts from both sets of grandparents too. My parents will send some gifts that we will open on Christmas morning along with the gift from Santa and the gift from us, and my husband’s parents will give my kids gifts that we’ll open the weekend before Christmas with them.

I’m not a huge fan of a pile of gifts. I think that when I’ve seen my kids have several gifts, if they open them up over the span of a few days, or maybe the Saturday before Christmas with the grandparents, and then Christmas Eve one gift and then a couple on Christmas morning, spreading them out is my preference for sure. That allows kids to really take in and absorb each gift and get excited about each gift, rather than ripping one open, setting it aside, ripping another one open, setting it aside. While I would like my kids to have fewer gifts, I think reasonably having a gift from Santa, a gift from Mom and Dad, a gift from each set of grandparents, that’s the balance that we’ve found in our family.

Now, as my kids grow and they have questions about Santa, I’m going to answer them honestly. I think it’s totally okay to play into the mystery of Santa, like how does Santa get all the way around the world in one night? Well, I’m not sure of the specifics. There’s a little bit of magic to it. I don’t think playing into the magic of Santa is damaging or harmful in any way, but I think that once kids are old enough to start asking a lot of specific logistical questions, I do think we need to come clean. If your kid asks you does Santa get around the world in one night and you tell him it’s just the magic of Santa and they’re not settled with that answer and they keep pushing for more and more answers, then it might be time to come clean and tell them the truth.

For me, I just wanted to avoid getting myself into any kind of elaborate lie. I also feel like I’m being preventative in the sense that I’m really not making the whole holiday season about Santa, so when the time comes and my kids do discover and find out the truth, it’s not going to be the end of the Christmas magic because there is so much magic other than just the Santa’s magic. I’m a fan of distributing the holiday excitement to other areas, other than just Santa and the gifts.

If you’re still in the holiday shopping mode, in this year’s holiday gift guide I do give some specific ideas on presents that bring presence, gifts that we can enjoy and engage in together with our kids. I also put out a little mini gift guide of a few of my favorite things if you are looking for some ideas for your own holiday list. I’m going to put both of those links in the show notes at simplefamilies.com/episode182 (above).

‘Something Simple’

Masterly Inactivity

This very first week of the new show format, I’m sharing something simple with you, and it’s a concept. It’s called masterly inactivity. Now, masterly inactivity is an expression that has been used across many, many disciplines. In essence, masterly inactivity means watchful waiting. It’s just a fancy way of saying stand back and see what happens, see what surfaces without your intervention, without your directives. This is one of the most simple and effective concepts out there when it comes to parenting and you’re probably already doing it without even knowing it. This concept is used across the medical community when you’re thinking about watching and waiting to see how a disease or an illness progresses before intervening. Those of you who are in the education field or in the homeschool community, you might recognize the use of the term masterly inactivity from someone named Charlotte Mason. We talked a little bit about Charlotte Mason back in Episode 162, that’s simplefamilies.com/episode162.

What does masterly inactivity look like, and why is it important in parenting? In this day and age, we are constantly looking for answers for everything, and with Google it’s pretty much possible you can ask and find out all the things that you need to know. In that we’re constantly searching for answers, we’re also constantly striving to be active and to be doing and to be fixing, especially when it comes to our kids. We want to do all the right things and be there and support them and provide them with everything possible, but some of the best parenting advice that I’ve heard came a few years ago. It was this: when you’ve tried everything, try nothing. I have applied this so many times in my own parenting journey and found it to be immensely helpful.

If you’ve encountered a challenge with parenting, you’re trying to change a behavior, you’re trying to simplify something and you feel like you’ve done absolutely everything and you are completely and utterly exhausted and spent, try nothing. There are two situations where this comes to mind. One is feeding kids. I have tried absolutely everything to get my kids to eat vegetables. I’ve put ketchup on them, I’ve put cheese on them, I’ve roasted them, I’ve boiled them, I’ve mixed them in with things. I have done everything and I just can’t get my kids to eat vegetables. Try nothing. I’ve done absolutely everything to try to get my kid to poop on the potty. I bought the potty that plays a song as soon as the kid goes to the bathroom, I have read all the books, I’ve tried all the approaches, but they just won’t go. Try nothing.

Why does this work? Because a lot of times we’re trying to do, do, do, and we’re trying to be everything for our kids, and sometimes we end up putting pressure on them as a result. Putting pressure on them to eat all the vegetables, we’re putting pressure them to use the potty. Sometimes pulling back and using masterly inactivity, that watchful waiting, releases that pressure and gives kids space to try out new things and to make strides without us. Because remember, sometimes encouragement, a lot of encouragement, can be perceived as pressure by our kids even if we have the best of intentions. So if you are dealing with a struggle and you feel like you’ve tried everything, perhaps try masterly inactivity, which is to step back and do some watchful waiting and to see how the behavior changes without all of your interventions, without all of your pressure/encouragement. Now, of course like anything, this is not a one size fits all solution for every problem, but it can be really effective in certain situations.

Another way that masterly inactivity can be really amazing is if you have a natural tendency to hover. If you’ve ever felt like you’re a natural-born helicopter parent and those are your natural inclinations, masterly inactivity might be something that you need to integrate into your days. Stepping back and giving your kids space to grow and letting them take some risks, those things all might be outside of your comfort zone and you might need an intentional approach like masterly inactivity to step back and let your kids grow, let your kids take some risks, and let them figure things out for themselves.

In a nutshell, those are two ways that I’ve found masterly inactivity to be really effective in parenthood. The first is if you’re in a situation where you feel stuck and you feel like you’ve tried everything, try nothing. The second is if you feel like you’re a natural-born helicopter parent and you have the tendency to hover, masterly inactivity is going to give you that intention setting, to step back and let your kids grow, let them take some risks, even if it means it’s a little bit outside of your comfort zone. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this concept. If you’re already using it or if you find new ways to apply it, feel free to tag me in your Instagram story so I can see and hear how you’re using this.

Thanks again for tuning in, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this first episode in the new format. I look forward to many more in the next year. If you have something simple that you’re loving and you want to share, send those to me.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.