“Is Santa Real?”

by Alisa Rivera

“Is Santa Real?”

"How does Santa get into our house when we don't have a chimney?" "How can Santa travel around the world in one night?" "Is there a Santa Claus?"

Ready or not, your child might start quizzing you about Kriss Kringle as early as kindergarten. That's when children develop concrete operational thinking, which helps them distinguish between fantasy and reality, says William Doherty, Ph.D., a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in St. Paul. It's also when your child might start to hear rumors about Santa from older kids.

You may be unsure about how to break the news or fear that Christmas will lose its magic once your child learns the truth. Ways to answer his questions, without feeling like a Grinch:

Don't let the truth slip too soon

Just because your child is wondering how Santa can be at the mall and at the North Pole at the same time doesn't mean you should spill the beans. He simply may be curious about how Santa works so hard. Stock answers—Santa's helpers pitch in at the mall; he uses the front door when a house has no chimney—will often satisfy him.

Or ask him what he thinks 

If it sounds plausible, agree with him. This is also a great way to keep the fantasy going if an older kid tells him the real deal; simply tell him if he believes in Santa, he shouldn't listen to what they have to say.

But don't hang on too long, either 

When no other explanation will placate him, it might be time to level with your child. A gentle way to break the news: "Santa Claus isn't a real person. Parents tell stories about him to make Christmas special for little kids. But don't worry—Christmas will still be fun. You'll get presents and we'll still put up a tree."

Don't fret that your child will think you "lied" to him 

Most kids aren't sophisticated enough to think of it that way. But if he does accuse you of fibbing, tell him the story of Santa Claus is a beautiful, make-believe story, like any other fairy tale.