Childhood Beliefs & Questions

Childhood Beliefs & Questions

Child: "Mom, if I ask you a question will you tell me the truth?"


Mom: "Sure."


Child (very seriously): "But Mom, I really want you to tell me the truth. Will you tell me the truth?"


Mom (puzzled): "Of course."


Child (urgent): "But do you promise? You have to promise to tell me the truth."


By now Mom was starting to wonder what this question was--sex, drugs or what?


Mom (nervously): "OK. I promise."


Child (agitated): "You have to tell me the truth. You really have to tell me the truth! Is there a Santa or not."


Mom (surprised): "And you really want to know the truth? The real truth?"


Child (bravely): "Yes."


Mom (tentatively): "OK. The truth is no, there is no Santa."


Child (bursting into tears): "But you said you would tell me the truth! You promised!"

This story was told to me by my Language of Listening® partner Eva about her nephew when he was 9. His mom answered as most parents would, but it turned out that her son had his own ideas and, despite the questions, was not ready to hear anything else.

This is true for most kids, so it behooves us to find out what their thoughts are first before sharing ours.

But when we get caught up in answering like this mom did, where to go from there? SAY WHAT YOU SEE® and add a STRENGTH:

SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS): "You didn't like that answer."


STRENGTH: "That tells me you know what is true for you already. What you believe about Santa is what matters, not what I think."

SAYing WHAT YOU SEE to his question about Santa in the first place would have sounded more like this:

SWYS: "Hmm. Santa yes or no is a really important question to you. You want to get it right but sound a bit worried about the answer. You really want it to be yes."

If his eyes light up at the possibility, or even if he nods sadly, a conversation that puts him back in touch with his own beliefs is the way to go. It might sound like this:

SWYS: "You don't like the idea of no Santa. You like the magic of flying reindeer and listening for sleigh bells on the roof top as you fall asleep Christmas Eve (or other favorite details). I'll bet there's even more than that you like about Santa."


Listen to whatever details the child adds and go from there, or if he is silent, just add:


SWYS: "Sounds like you'll never want to give that up."

A child who wants to believe in Santa will probably agree and drop it. However, if the child presses you for a final yes or no, you can follow the approach my kids liked and that my sister used when her daughter was 8 that keeps the ball in their court:

Child: “The kids at school say their parents put the gifts under the tree at night, not Santa. Which is it?”


Mom: "If kids believe it's their parents, for them it is; if you believe it's Santa, for you it is.”

It helps to remember that these types of questions are the children trying to decide what they believe. So to allow them explore their beliefs at their own pace, return the lead by SAYing WHAT YOU SEE.

This was my niece's question at age 9 and my suggested response:

Child (concerned): "My friend said there's no Santa. She saw her parents wrapping her presents and signing them 'From Santa.' Do you and Dad do that?"


SWYS: "Sounds like you think if kids' parents wrap and sign Santa's name on the presents, there can't be a Santa...and you wouldn't like that."

SAYing WHAT YOU SEE to follow the child's lead in this and other cases like, “You’re wondering how Santa will find you at Grandma’s,” or “You noticed that there is more than one Santa on the street corners,” gives children a chance to answer the question themselves. Depending on what my niece wanted to believe that year, she'd find an explanation that worked for her. Maybe her friend's parents were asked to be Santa's helpers. Who knows?

Kids can explain away anything if they want to. For example, upon seeing a magical moment in a movie where a wall transforms into a fireplace, one little boy looking for an explanation exclaimed with delight, “So that’s how he does it!”

Upon seeing Santa riding in a horse-drawn carriage instead of a sleigh, another little girl calmly said, "Daddy, Santa will be late delivering the gifts this year, because horses can't fly!" Clearly these children want to believe in Santa.

Even when you try to avoid the whole issue by telling kids the "facts" from the start, it can backfire. One parent shared that she had always told her son the gifts came from people in his family to show their love. Although it’s a wonderful explanation, it wasn’t what the child wanted to believe.

As he got older and heard more from other kids, he wanted his gifts to be from Santa, too. Mom offered to pretend, but that didn't work because calling it pretend meant it wasn’t real. Turns out that making it into a game and allowing him to decide, “Santa is real this year, OK?” did.

In the child’s world, physical reality is all there is and defines their understanding of "real." Questioning symbols like Santa indicates a readiness to separate the physical form of Santa from the "real" concepts of love and generosity it symbolizes. But the transition from physical to conceptual thinking doesn't happen all at once, so neither should the separation.

That's why the best thing you can do is SAY WHAT YOU SEE and allow your child to make the separation at their own pace. When the magic of Santa shifts into the magic of love and generosity, the magic of the holiday season remains intact.

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