© iStockLet the kids have Santa Claus.
As a psychotherapist and a child development specialist, I've heard all the arguments:
"He's 7 years old and in first grade and he still believes in Santa. My husband says I should tell him the truth."
"We're a Jewish family and we don't believe in Christmas, so how can we allow her to believe in Santa?"
"We teach our children not to lie, so we must not lie about Santa Claus."
I cannot argue with the parents who make these statements. And yet I argue for Santa. A child who isn't allowed to believe in Santa is missing out on a lot. Parents do their kids a disservice when they keep them from the myth of the jolly, round, white-bearded man with the red checks and the red and white tousled hat.
Isn't it amazing that Dancer and Prancer and Rudolph can find all of our homes? And that Santa slides down our chimneys? And if we've been good, he leaves us gifts. It's surprising he doesn't get stuck. Maybe we should leave a snack for Santa and his reindeer. They've been working pretty hard all night.
Fantasy is a young child's escape from the reality of the rules of growing up. The 21st century is not easy on any of us. We all need some fantasy to survive. How about Avatar, video games, Harry Potter? Children absorb the fear of parents, and today's parents have plenty of fears for their children. We supervise our children all the time (who knows what might happen otherwise?).
J.M. Barrie wrote, "Once upon a time, there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up." Children and adults cheer when they read or hear Peter say, "I do believe in fairies, I do! I do!" There is a Peter Pan in all of us. And it's that magical thinking that helps up develop the resilience to deal with the reality we face as we do grow up.
Sure, there is a commercial and a religious side of the Santa experience that lead some families not to promote the story, but I think their kids miss a magic that exists only in childhood.
Every child is exposed to Santa Claus, but some very caring parents are so eager to foster their children's cognitive development that they have little tolerance for a prolonged Santa experience. There is nothing more wonderful than for a bright, reality oriented, school-age child to be able to regress to Santa at Christmas time. Of course, he may really know the score, but he wants to be a little boy one more time. Don't spoil it for him.
Research has shown that children who play imaginatively in their early years more often think creatively and solve problems effectively when they grow up.
Some parents worry about lying to their children. When your child starts asking if there really is a Santa, you can turn the question back to him: "What do you think?" Usually he will say he thinks there is one, and you can say, "Sounds good to me." And so for one more year, your child can have the symbolic experience of giving with love.
As a very young child, I remember looking at an odd patch in the ceiling of my small bedroom and thinking it was Santa watching me to make sure I was good enough to deserve presents. And I guess I was good enough.
Then came the day I found the sled I wanted hidden under my parent's bed. How did that happen?
When raising our four children, we had a friend who dressed as Santa and came to our house Christmas Eve. One year, my oldest child noticed that Santa and I used the same paper to wrap gifts. My answer: "That's amazing, isn't it?"
Loving, caring, imagining, believing and simple goodness are all part of the cultural experience of Santa, and I recommend nurturing it.
P.S.: I'm also an advocate for the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
Margery Fridstein is a private practice psychotherapist, currently in private practice in Denver, Colorado. She previously worked in Glencoe, Illinois and Aspen, Colorado. Margery holds degrees from Northwestern University and Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. More from Margery Fridstein: How to Help Your Child Cope With ADHD