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When Your Child Asks:
"Is There Really a Santa?"

QUESTION: Should I tell my nine-year-old daughter who Santa Claus really is?

ANSWER: Like the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus exists to inspire children with a sense of wonder. As with any fable, its value lies in the capacity for holding reality and integrating changes. Losing a tooth can be traumatic for a young child, but the Tooth Fairy eases this loss and promises renewal and reward. Santa Claus beckons festivity and excitement at the onset of winter and darkness in many parts of the world. What better time to remind children of the goodwill of Saint Nick?

It is probable, however, that you are the one being fooled! It's unlikely that your daughter has not already suspected -- if not discovered -- the facts, by this age. Perhaps she isn't telling you because she knows how much you enjoy the fable. Your willingness to share the truth with her can be an important experience of trust in showing her the confidence you have in her to handle the truth. Even if she already knows it!

All children must outgrow such fables, and you have determined that this is the time for your daughter to do so. Yet, despite the fact that there is no Santa, the "spirit of Christmas" can very much be kept alive. Your desire to give her the childhood experience of Santa Claus is based on a desire to engender wonder, excitement and anticipation of pleasure. These are all important aspects of enjoyment in life. But now it is time for her to incorporate the spirit of Santa Claus into being able to give to others.

Perhaps she will internalize Santa as a message that good things can come to her. This could be a comforting feeling to fall back upon; however, at this age of interest in accomplishment and being able to "do" in the world, she will benefit from coming to terms with reality (if she hasn't discovered the truth already). And she will gain from the personal connection of gifts coming from people who love and care for her. Perhaps even more so than a mysterious Santa Claus!

It is time for her to feel the power of "giving" and play at being Santa Claus, herself. Do not underestimate the personal power of gift giving as well as receiving. This power can be developed only in the context of the truth. Your daughter will benefit from the fact that the spirit of Christmas is not created by Santa Claus, but by ordinary people who love and care for each other!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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