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How to Tell Autistic Children That Santa Isn't Real

How to Tell Autistic Children That Santa Isn’t Real

The holiday season is a magical time for many families. Children look forward to presents from Santa Claus and quality time with loved ones. However, some parents dread having the Santa talk with their kids, especially if the child is on the autism spectrum.

Autistic children often take things very literally and have difficulty with change and abstraction. Telling them that Santa doesn’t exist can be extremely challenging.

With empathy, patience and the right approach, you can help your autistic child understand the Santa myth without crushing their holiday spirit. Here are some tips for having a meaningful conversation about Santa that sets your child up for success.

Pick the Right Time

Wait until your child starts asking critical questions or expressing doubts about Santa. Forcing the conversation too soon can create confusion and distrust. If your child is highly attached to the idea of Santa, you may want to ease into it gradually instead of dropping the bomb all at once.

Aim for a time when your child is relaxed and receptive to discussion. Avoid times when they’re tired, hungry or overwhelmed. Choose a private moment when you can give your full attention. Turn off distractions like TVs and phones so you can focus.

Explain the Origin of Santa Traditions

Instead of starting with “Santa isn’t real,” explain where Santa traditions came from. For example:

“You know the story of Santa traveling on a sleigh with reindeer and bringing presents? That story started a very long time ago with a man named St. Nicholas.”

Go on to talk about St. Nicholas’ charity and generosity and how his legend evolved into the Santa character we know today. Focusing on the history makes it less about destroying a fantasy and more about learning the origins of a cultural tradition.

Emphasize the “Spirit” of Santa

Transition to explaining that Santa represents the magical spirit of giving. Say something like:

“As the story of St. Nicholas changed over time, people started playing a game where parents pretended to be Santa bringing gifts to surprise their kids. We keep up the fun tradition, but now that you’re old enough, you’re in on the secret!”

Let your child know that while Santa himself isn’t real, his spirit absolutely is. Talk about how playing Secret Santa and giving gifts makes the season special.

How to Tell Autistic Children That Santa Isn't Real

Validate Your Child’s Feelings

This conversation can bring up big emotions like confusion, sadness and anger. Validate whatever feelings your child expresses.

Say things like, “I understand this might be disappointing to hear,” or “It’s okay to feel confused – this doesn’t make sense to me either.”

Reassure them that you’re there to answer any questions they have. The more patience and empathy you show, the easier it will be for them.

Explain the Intention Behind the Myth

One of the most troubling parts of learning Santa isn’t real is wondering why parents and others lied. Make it clear that no one intended any harm.

You can say: “The reason parents pretend Santa brings the gifts is so Christmas feels more magical and fun, especially for little kids.”

Explain that kids use imagination to play and make believe all the time, and the Santa myth is like an imaginative game adults play to get into the holiday spirit.

Set Clear Expectations Moving Forward

Some autistic children may feel unsettled realizing parents “lied” about Santa and worry what else might not be true. Offer reassurance:

“I know learning this may make you wonder what else is real and pretend. I promise I will always be honest with you moving forward.”

Be clear about what happens next to provide stability. Say, “Now that you know the Santa secret, we can focus our holidays on meaningful traditions like…” Then suggest things you actually do as a family like making cookies, giving to charity, etc.

Include Your Child by Giving Them a Role

Instead of viewing this as losing the fantasy of Santa, frame it as your child gaining a special insider role.

You can say: “Now you get to help by being part of the Christmas magic for younger kids. We can be like Santa’s helpers together.”

Suggest ways they can take on some of the Santa duties – helping pick out gifts for relatives, wrapping presents, arranging them under the tree, etc. This gives them a sense of responsibility and inclusion.


Telling an autistic child that Santa isn’t real requires care, understanding and patience. Focus on preserving the magical spirit of the holidays rather than destroying their beliefs all at once. With the right approach, you can transform this step into a growing experience that brings you closer and makes the season special in a new way.

How to Tell Autistic Children That Santa Isn't Real

Frequently Asked Questions

Telling an autistic child that Santa isn’t real can be challenging. Here are answers to some common questions parents have about having the Santa talk with their autistic kids.

What’s the best way to break the news about Santa?

The best approach is to gradually ease into the conversation instead of abruptly stating “Santa isn’t real.” Explain the historical origins of Santa and transition into emphasizing the “spirit” of Santa. Validate your child’s feelings and make clear you never intended to lie but wanted to create holiday magic.

What if my child gets very upset?

It’s understandable an autistic child may feel sad, angry or betrayed. Validate their feelings and be patient. Explain your intentions were good and you’re having this talk because they’re mature enough to understand. Offer reassurance and make clear you’ll always be honest moving forward.

Should I tell other parents not to talk about Santa with my child?

Yes, discreetly tell close friends and family not to perpetuate the Santa myth anymore. Explain you had the Santa talk and want to avoid confusing your child. Those involved with your kid should be aware so they don’t sabotage your hard work.

Is this conversation best for one parent alone or both?

It’s ideal to have both parents present if possible. This shows a united front and prevents contradicting messages from each parent. If it must be one-on-one, make sure to fill your partner in afterwards.

What if my child is devastated over Santa not being real?

Acknowledge their sadness and don’t minimize it. Offer comfort and validate it’s a big let-down. Suggest focusing on the positive traditions you’ll carry on together as a family, like baking cookies or giving to charity. The goal is preserving the holiday spirit.

How do I explain why adults lied about Santa?

Be clear no one intended harm, but wanted to create childhood wonder and excitement. Explain pretending is part of using imagination, which kids do when playing. Santa is like an imaginary game parents play along with to heighten the magic.

Should I tell my child not to ruin the Santa myth for others?

Yes, explain that while they’re in on the secret, some kids still believe. Ask them not to spoil the fun by revealing the truth to younger siblings, classmates, etc. They can take pride in being privy to this white lie others perpetuate.

What if they have more questions later on?

Let them know you’re always available to provide clarification or talk more in depth later on if anything is still confusing. Keep listening and answering questions as they process this. The conversation may need to unfold gradually.

How do I get them excited about Christmas now?

Involve them in cherished family traditions and experience the holiday uniquely now that they know the inside scoop on Santa. Emphasize the meaningful spirit behind gift-giving and quality time with loved ones.

Should I hold off on the Santa talk altogether?

If your child isn’t questioning it, you can likely preserve the magic awhile longer. But once they start critically thinking, it’s best to have an honest discussion to avoid bigger issues down the line about trust.

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