- Kids usually stop believing in Santa between 6 and 9 years of age
- Internet access means kids tend to find out sooner than they used to
- It’s important to have a strategy for responding to your child when they come to you with questions about Santa’s existence
Santa is an integral part of the magic of Christmas, for kids, but for parents too. Unfortunately, there comes a time when a child stops believing in Santa.
Has your child been showing signs of doubt that Santa exists? Or are you wondering how many Christmases you have left before your kids cotton on to the truth?
When do kids stop believing in Santa? Research shows kids usually stop believing in Santa between 6 and 9 years of age.
So, when do kids stop believing in Santa?
The average age when kids stop believing in Santa varies between religions, countries and regions.
2018 preliminary results from the worldwide Exeter Santa Survey revealed that children tended to stop believing in Santa at a younger age in England than in Scotland (at 8.03 and 8.58 years respectively). This may be in part due to the fact that “more people in Scotland than in England said it was ok to lie to children about Santa ”.
In 2019, another survey came to a similar conclusion in the United States. 8.4 years is the average age when kids do stop believing in Santa .
Interestingly (and perhaps sadly) Australian kids are discovering Santa no longer exists much earlier - around just 6.5 years of age. A 2015 survey found a considerable difference between the generation of kids in 2015, compared to their parents (your generation) who likely discovered Santa wasn’t real around 8.5 years of age.
How do kids find out Santa isn’t real?
Kids don’t usually just stop believing in Santa. As their observational and critical thinking skills develop, so does their ability to notice the little things that don’t seem to add up. And each little doubt in their mind builds up to that one big question you’ve been dreading: “Is Santa real?”
- A parent’s handwriting on gift tags “from Santa”
- People dressed as Santa acting inauthentically (e.g. a grumpy mood)
- Parents carrying in Santa gifts from their car
- Catching parents eating what had been set out for Santa and his reindeer
- Hearing clumsy (or tipsy!) parents dropping gifts on their bedroom floor
The internet also has a lot to answer for, particularly when it comes to Aussie kids. The 2015 survey of Australian parents found that 1 in 6 of them cited the internet as responsible for their kids no longer believing in Santa.
Google searches are the obvious one here, responsible for one third of the kids discovering the truth.
But, online shopping brings a lot of parents unstuck too. Kids check browser history and online shopping accounts, with 25 percent even watching on as their parents made an online gift purchase .
Perhaps most surprising is the impact of online advertising. “ Spotting online ads for gifts they'd requested from the North Pole raised suspicions about Santa Claus' existence for 44 percent of children.”
Those are some of the physical clues that put doubt in the minds of our kids. But, there’s some other things to watch out for - ones that you won’t see coming.
Like one Australian 3-year-old who questioned the likelihood of “reindeer, snow, red suit, flying, all on a hot Aussie night!?”
Or an 8-year-old that asked for an explanation “why children in “poor countries” didn't get Father Christmas to bring them food so there wouldn't be starvation anymore” - and didn’t receive a satisfactory answer.
How do kids react when they stop believing in Santa?
As a parent, you may be concerned just how upset your little ones will be when they find out Santa isn’t real. You may even be wondering if lying to them about Santa is causing any long-term harm.
Well, according to research, reactions are a bit of a mixed bag.
The Exeter Santa Survey’s preliminary results revealed respondents felt the following when they discovered old Saint Nick wasn’t real :
- 30 percent were upset
- 15 percent felt betrayed
- 10 percent were angry
As for how they felt about trusting adults , 30 percent said it did affect how they trusted, and 56 percent said it didn’t.
Interestingly, “65 percent of respondents said they continued to play along with the Santa shtick for a time, even after they realized it wasn’t true.”
How should you react when your child finds out?
Perhaps the most important question is not “when do kids stop believing in Santa” or even “how did they find out?” Rather, how you handle it when they do start to figure things out is what counts.
This won’t just have an impact on the child finding out, but also how helpful they will be in keeping the myth alive for any younger siblings.
It’s best to have a strategy when your child comes to you with doubts about Santa’s existence - especially if you aren’t great at thinking on your feet.
Will you try to perpetuate the lie a bit longer? Or will you take a direct approach? Perhaps your approach will depend on the age of your child - whether you think they are too young to find out the truth or you think they are old enough to handle it.
A direct approach has some benefits:
- Kids usually expect adults to tell the truth
- It spares shame and embarrassment to tell the truth outright when they first ask you - rather than finding out from peers down the track
A good way to gauge if your child is ready for the truth is to reflect the question back to them when they express doubts, asking why they think that. If they seem to be thinking critically about it, and can provide you with some sound reasons why they doubt Santa’s existence, they may indeed be ready to learn the truth.
And, once they know, you can decide whether to explain that Santa is a way to help young children understand the spirit of Christmas by demonstrating kindness, hope, happiness and generosity. Or explain the true meaning of Christmas to them. You may even prefer to tell them they are now part of a future tradition where they become Santa to someone else - younger siblings for example, so they practice generosity and help others enjoy Christmas.
Whatever approach you choose when the time comes, think about how you can help your child understand that the Santa myth is a tradition, not born of malice, but to help make Christmas more magical for everyone.