On childhood beliefs

45


Discussion by: nathanlh
I have been distraught by a deep moral issue lately. There is no way I will ever teach, or let my children follow religion. But I commonly relate religion and santa clause. I have been seriously debating whether or not it is a good idea to let children believe in santa clause or the tooth fairy. Since religion is so closely related, are those also terrible things to let children believe in?

45 COMMENTS

  1. Just tell them the truth. Children love pretend games, so just tell them that the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are pretend games.
    Religion is like a pretend game that went too far and stuck on some people.

  2. You can also use those stories as a reasoning exercise. Don’t lie if they ask questions, but encourage them to think logically about a man who flies around the whole world in a single night. Kids like to figure stuff out.

  3. The issue is not that they’re related to religion; it’s that they’re lies. Your children’s trust in you is absolute, and you never even did anything to deserve it. You better have a damn good reason to betray trust like that, and silly fairy tales isn’t one. There’s no such thing as a harmless lie. I know an eight(!) year old kid who’s way to clever to believe in Santa Clause, but he just can’t bring himself to believe his parents would have lied to him all this time. Gives me the creeps.

  4. I should clarify – I wouldn’t go out of my way to try to convince them that Santa was real. I grew up not believing in Santa, but I don’t think my parents specifically enforced that. It might have been because I was so involved in religious schools that the notion of Santa as real didn’t come up in the light of the whole “Jesus is the reason for the season” thing. I’m not really sure, though. My mom really liked Santa decorations, but I always understood that it was just a seasonal thing we did.

    If your child is going to be in an environment where they’re exposed to Santa and other children who believe he exists and picks up the belief as well, I don’t see the harm in letting it exist for awhile. On the other hand, if my children ever asked if Santa was real, I wouldn’t try to deceive them into believing just so they can experience that bit of childhood, but let them form their own belief about it.

  5. In reply to #8 by mmurray:

    If by the time you children are grown up you can look back and find that telling them a lie about Santa and the Tooth Fairy was your only mistake you have my congratulations.

    Michael

    The one issue I have had with my wife is the Santa thing, where she wants to do it and I don’t (she won). I was a little bitter about it, but this helps me put it into perspective, thanks.

  6. I was a little disturbed by your second sentence, nathanlh. They’re your own kids so I guess you can raise them however you choose, but would you really never let them follow a religion? If one of your children came home from school and told you she was thinking about becoming a Christian, would you exert your parental authority and insist that she didn’t?

  7. I must confess, when I was a small child, I enjoyed the ritual of putting out refreshments (beer and cake) for Father Christmas before we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Of course the hope was that Father Christmas would be swayed by the thoughtfully provided refreshments to be just a little more generous in the unloading of presents that night. I think even at that age (3 or 4), I was somehow aware that the story was just that, though it was easy as a child to play along with it as though it were the truth. I recall no moment when I was undeceived about it or came to the realization that there was no Father Christmas; at one level I had always known that. The way in which my parents spoke of Father Christmas imparted the fun of the traditional story and customs, together with the tacit understanding that this was all just for fun. Likewise with the Easter Bunny. For two or three years around this same time, and it must have happened for my older brother too, there would be a loud knock on the front door on Easter Sunday morning, at which my mother would feign surprise and wonder aloud who that could be. On opening the front door, we would find a pile of Easter eggs, left there of course by the elusive Easter Bunny! My father had to move very quickly to pull this stunt off, because he had to turn up with us just as we were about to open the front door, so that he could share our surprise and allay suspicions concerning the real benefactor. The last time my parents played this routine was when I was four, and at one level I knew the truth, but that was not what the occasion was about and no-one ever spoke of it. At Easter after I had turned five I did not miss the Easter Bunny’s loud knock on the front door; I was at school then and preoccupied with so many other things. At no time did my parents lie to me about Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny; rather they just celebrated these traditional seasonal rituals for the imaginative fun that they were.

  8. Heigh nathanih,there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Christmas, I can tell you most people don’t give the birth of Christ a second thought there to busy running up huge bills on their credit cards or wondering if the kids toys need any batteries personally I enjoy taking a week off work to spend time with my family and enjoy time off, your children will figure it out the truth eventually and why all the deception, I don’t think it will scar them think of Santa as an unpaid babysitter “Santa is watching so eat your dinner!” you get the picture.

  9. Nathanlh,
    I’d be wary of being too militant about ‘letting your children follow religion’. When teenagers that policy might result in teenage rebellion of becoming religious. I think talking to them about the horror of it all should be sufficient to open their eyes. I’ve just been re-reading the bible (something I’m convinced most Christians never do), and it’s horrific still in psalms but the early books are just hideous. I’d read some bible passages with them I’m sure you’d raise their scepticism by doing so. Even Noah’s ark would be a good one, express your concerns about a god who’d allow innocent children to die (not even born) because their mothers were too wicked to live.

    Also some comparative religious study will also start them thinking which god am I meant to believe in. But if you prohibit it, might backfire on you.

  10. In reply to #5 by GospelofJudas:

    Kim’s on point. Teach your kid how to critically think, and they’ll see through it. Explain, too, that you’re just telling them stories.

    I think this correct, but we must recognise that children go through development stages and are not capable of abstract reasoned thinking in infancy.

    Jean Piaget identifies several mental operations of the concrete operational stage of cognitive development:[3] – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mental _operations

  11. we have done the santa claus and tooth fairy businesses with both our kids, and around age 7, they came up with doubts. We would then ask them “what do YOU think?” and they would come back later and say “baah, it was you!”
    No big deal I think.

  12. When my son was about 6, he lost a tooth. My wife snuck into his room and put a dollar under his pillow while he slept. The next morning at breakfast, he came to the table and said “Mommy you are the tooth fairy aren’t you?”

    My wife and I looked at each other and kind of sighed… “Yes, son, Mommy is the tooth fairy…” He walked away processing it. After school that day, as my wife and I worked on getting dinner together for the family, he wandered into the room again. He said, “If you are the tooth fairy, how do you get into all the other kids houses?”

    He was adding things up. processing. He had it all figured out soon after.

    I do not think that it damaged him; rather, I think it enriched his ability to think critically and not be afraid to debunk. He spoke out against what he perceived to be the popular opinion. He thought for himself and voiced his doubt. All around win/win scenario (in my world).

  13. I think there is an important difference here, in that telling your children about Santa is always a temporary thing – you know from the start that the day will come when you put your hands up and say “I admit it, he’s not real”. There is also no realistic chance that, after that point, the child will continue to believe in Santa.

    While the children believe it is quite fun, and as other posters have noted it’s a good exercise for the children to work out for themselves why it can’t be true. From experience it seems that children do not resent having been deceived, and older children enjoy joining in in maintaining the illusion for their younger siblings.

    Contrast that with religious belief – one generally doesn’t tell one’s children about religion as though it is true, planning one day to break it to them that it is not. Moreover, even if you did it would be likely to cause resentment in the child. Worst of all, religious belief is, for a lot of people, powerful stuff. The risk is that the belief patterns will be too deeply embedded for the child to let go. There will also be no shortage of people elsewhere in society who will be more than willing to perpetuate the deception in your place.

    Religion paints a false picture of humans, their origins and their place in the universe. Most religions contain very unhelpful notions of sin. There are fundamental ideas that can take root in a young mind and be hard to shake. Belief in Santa, on the other hand, paints a false picture of where one’s Christmas presents come from, nothing more, and this belief is easily shaken for good with no ill-effects. I really don’t think the two can be compared…

  14. I don’t see any harm in allowing a child to believe in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy, as long as you don’t continue to encourage the belief once they reach an age (5-9?) when they natually question if it’s true or not.

    In fact, it’s a good exercise for them to learn at that age that not everything they are told by authority turns out to be true.

  15. As many of the people below have stated, there is a profound difference between a few tales and harmless traditions, and indoctrination in dogma. My best friend loves to mess with his kids from time to time (telling them tall tales of hunting dinosaurs and all that), and his kids figure it out. By not introducing children to ideas that they later disprove through reasoning, are we not stunting their capacity to do so?

  16. My children are all in their mid twenties and all still at home. Santa still visits every Christmas eats his mince pie drinks the sherry and leaves us all at least one present each from him. Nobody has ever declared he doesn’t exist.
    As Einstein once said ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’.

  17. In reply to #8 by mmurray:

    If by the time you children are grown up you can look back and find that telling them a lie about Santa and the Tooth Fairy was your only mistake you have my congratulations.

    and

    In reply to #6 by Kim Probable:

    If your child is going to be in an environment where they’re exposed to Santa and other children who believe he exists and picks up the belief as well, I don’t see the harm in letting it exist for awhile. On the other hand, if my children ever asked if Santa was real, I wouldn’t try to deceive them into believing just so they can experience that bit of childhood, but let them form their own belief about it.

    Pretty much this. The kids are going to pick up ideas and figure things out on their own. So long as you’re honest when asked and don’t try deceiving them, then you should be OK. As mmurray says, it’s not the worst thing in the world anyway.

  18. Yes I am for Santa Clause. You dont have to go into the Why’s of atheism until you dont have a choice. Just explain to them that you don’t do religion. Leave it at that. If they ask about God tell them that God is the same as religion and you don’t do religion. Put it off for as long as you can and then have a sit down. But Santa? yes definetly.

    My only fear with telling them the truth at such an early age is that you dont want your Kid on the play ground telling other kids that Santa does not exist. Think of it as an intermediatory step before you hit them with the painful truth.

    Ps. ‘I think saying I dont do religion’ is better than saying ‘I dont believe in God’. Always tell them God and religion are the same thing. Remember whatever you say will be quoted in school. Its just a matter of style and is absolutely a fudge.

  19. When I was 3 a slightly older friend told me that the tooth fairy did not exist. Not having any older sibling I had never heard of the tooth fairy but I reasoned that it was probably one of those character you never saw like Father Christmas or god, and therefore if the tooth fairy did not exist neither did they. It was perhaps two or three years before I was sure of my reasoning (aged 6 my best friend and I spent Christmas Eve building Santa traps) but that conversation got me thinking, and my parents refusal to confirm either way got me thinking even more.

  20. When my granddaughter was young and she would ask her dad a question he would often give her ridiculous answers in fun.
    She would tire of the game and come to me for the answer. I always told her the truth.
    Now she is married with children and told me she learned from me to always tell the truth.
    Kids want real answers.

  21. I must confess, when I was a small child, I enjoyed the ritual of putting out refreshments (beer and cake) for Father Christmas before we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Garrick Worthing

    In my house it was a glass of sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph (until I realised that this was unfair on all the other reindeer and began to insist that a further nine carrots be left out for the others; yes they had all picked on him for having a deformity, but depriving them of nutrition when they have to fly all around the world is a cruel and unusual punishment).

    The Santa dilemma probably gives kids’ parents a lot more grief than it does the children themselves. Very young children love the idea of Father Christmas because he’s magical, but as they get a bit older their affection for the bearded one tends to become more about what he’s planning to give them on Christmas morning. By the time they get to about eight or nine they’re all about the presents.

    The blow of finding out that, as everyone here seems to believe, Santa isn’t real is mitigated by the knowledge that they still get prezzies, time off school, may sneak their first taste of alcohol, get to eat chocolate for breakfast, and attend the end-of-year disco where it’s rumoured there’s going to be mistletoe and they may get to make out with a boy for the first time!

    Losing one’s belief in Santa comes hand in hand with growing up; and children, bless their dumb little hearts, want nothing more than to grow up. As Crookedshoes pointed out, they may even get a kick out of having figured all this out for themselves.

    It couldn’t hurt to keep a copy of “Can Reindeer Fly – the science of Christmas” wrapped up and on hand to ease the transition. Or “A Christmas Carol”, if you want to maintain their belief in magic for another year.

    [Edited by moderator to convert pictures to text]

  22. In reply to #14 by Dublin-atheist:

    …there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Christmas…

    Agreed. Christmas was planted atop a much earlier festival, and it’s fine to continue the fun with parties presents decorations and fairytales. Kids love all of these, and there’s no need to go all factual on them. In fact, people like to have a celebration in the middle of winter, when the days are too short and the nights too long. And never let truth spoil a good story.

    Just because you’ve kicked out the interloping Xtian mythology doesn’t mean you should give up having a good time. Actually, the Xtian overlay was far less of a good time than what went before.

    Same goes for Easter (spring festival) and Hallow’een (autumn festival) – uncomfortably Xtianized as “All Saints Day” and “All Souls Day”, though it is the night before that’s the interesting time. I notice Xtians were never big on midsummer, you could add that one back to your calendar. Teach a bit of astronomy at the same time.

    BTW whenever we see a man dressed in red suit and false white beard in December, I’m careful to say to the kids: “there’s someone dressed up as Santa”, not “there’s Santa”. They know the difference, and of course they know about dressing up. The older kids now enjoy covering for the Easter Bunny, Santa and even the Tooth Fairy, sharing the goodies left out by the young one on Christmas Eve. They get the biscuits, I still get the whiskey. The small Santa-believer is quite capable of handling simultaneous belief in all kinds of things, none of them particularly serious. Dragons, unicorns, pegasus, mermaids, fairies. It’s a magical time being under 7 years old. Critical thinking skills get honed on distinguishing the repeatably-real (school, mealtimes, bedtimes) from the unconfirmed-possible-maybe (but wouldn’t it be nice) of imagination. Not bad for a little creature whose 185,000,000th grandparent was a fish.

  23. In reply to #26 by Pauly01:

    explain to them that you don’t do religion. .. If they ask about God tell them that God is the same as religion and you don’t do religion.

    Thanks Pauly, that’s great.

    For the older inquisitive, I’ve said that religion is something people made up to boss bully and con other people, which is why it’s best avoided.

  24. In my house it was a glass of sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph…yes they had all picked on him for having a deformity

    Please note that male reindeer’s antlers are only kept during the mating season. Over the winter it is only the females who have antlers. Therefore all of Father Christmas’s reindeer are female (including Rudolf).

    Pedantism over. Carry on.

  25. Childhood should be filled with beauty and fantastic tales to encourage imagination and critical thinking. It seems to me that any kid whose parents only told them the stark facts of life usually grows up to be a very miserable so-&-so. My kids believed in Santa until they worked it out for themselves (about 8-9 yr old), and felt they were growing up, like a rite of passage almost. Meanwhile from the age of 4 they were asking questions like “Who is God’s daddy?”. If they ever sincerely ask then my wife and I are straight with them. I’ve never tried to lead them but always say “Well some people believe this but others believe that”. Their path is their own. If they turn out to be into a religion then good luck to them. At the moment they both declare themselves atheist. (And we still play at Santa at Xmas, mince pie, whisky, carrot, fairy dust).

    As Kahlil Gibran put it, you can aim and fire the arrow but you have to let it go.

  26. Once long ago whilst on playground duty on a cold December’s day, I spotted two, (normally placid) eight year old boys,( who just happened to be in my class), fighting tooth and nail. I rushed over, separated them immediately and asked them what on earth was up. One of them blurted out in tears pointing at the other, “He said there was no such thing as Santa Claus!”
    The way they were going at it, they would have been providing a lot of work for the tooth fairy if I hadn’t been so vigilant!

  27. In reply to #37 by bob_e_s:

    In my house it was a glass of sherry and a mince pie for Father Christmas and a carrot for Rudolph…yes they had all picked on him for having a deformity

    Please note that male reindeer’s antlers are only kept during the mating season. Over the winter it is only the females who have antlers. Therefore all of Father Christmas’s reindeer are female (including Rudolf).

    Pedantism over. Carry on.

    I think I’m right in saying that male reindeer which have been gelded don’t shed their antlers, so perhaps Santa did the responsible thing and called out the North Pole vet, instructing him to bring the burdizzo.

  28. In reply to #40 by Katy Cordeth:

    KC: I think I’m right in saying that male reindeer which have been gelded don’t shed their antlers, so perhaps Santa did the responsible thing and called out the North Pole vet, instructing him to bring the burdizzo.

    Hi Katy. I’m sure Santa learned long ago that was the only way to keep their minds on the night ahead, considering what was right in front of their noses…. Mac.

  29. Not at all.
    In the same way that your children might stage a fight between a T.Rex and a lion with their replica toys, they also use their imagination to explain why their tooth is no longer under the pillow when they wake up in the morning. Unless you are asked, you probably wouldn’t clarify to your child that Cretacic creatures and lions didn’t coexist and therefore he or she shouldn’t be staging that fight.
    So, if they start being curious and begin to ask logical questions then they should get logical answers. If they haven’t arrived to this point yet it’s because they are not ready for the truth. Let them be children until they’ve had enough.
    Having parents that use reason and science in their lifes is the best thing that can happen to a 21st century child, so I’m sure your children will be fine…

  30. When my kids were young I made a point of lying to them. I’d make up “facts” (Most people float a little bit above their beds when they are asleep at night, hence flying dreams. I can balance pencils on their points so long as people aren’t watching..etc.)

    With any of these outlandish fantasies I never let the day end without them coming to realise mostly by their own efforts and with a few hints from me that these were porkers. They sometimes complained that I was hard work, but I’m uncommonly proud of the results. Having children come to the Greg House position/insight that everybody lies, that these lies are often well intentioned though sometimes not, but they are most often unwitting is a life lesson that needn’t undercut teaching the important stuff (Roads are dangerous. Don’t accept sweets from a Republican.)

    Fantasies can be fun. Celebrating Santa Claus one year and the varieties of others in subsequent years with different giving traditions could be great.

  31. In reply to #1 by brown dwarf:

    Just tell them the truth. Children love pretend games, so just tell them that the tooth fairy and Santa Claus are pretend games.
    Religion is like a pretend game that went too far and stuck on some people.

    In reply to #4 by Nigel S: Yes, when my parents told me Santa was a lie I had doubts at that moment about God/Jesus being true.

    The issue is not that they’re related to religion; it’s that they’re lies. Your children’s trust in you is absolute, and you never even did anything to deserve it. You better have a damn good reason to betray trust like that, and silly fairy tales isn’t one. There’s no such thing as a harmless lie. I know an eight(!) year old kid who’s way to clever to believe in Santa Clause, but he just can’t bring himself to believe his parents would have lied to him all this time. Gives me the creeps.

  32. No, they are not. Children love the idea of a man who lives in the North Pole. These make children happy, as long as you do it carefully, it can be one of the joys of childhood. I think it is more harmful not tell your children about Father Christmas, the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny. My girlfriend told me that when she was young, her parents never spoke about Father Christmas but took her to church, which I thought was disgraceful.

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