Is it okay to lie about Santa?

At Imperfect Parent, it’s part of our cardinal rule that we do not lie to children. This is the back bone of respecting another person, and children should expect no less from their most trusted people in the world. So… How does this fit with the stories we tell around Christmas, specifically about Santa Claus? 

It will be my son’s 3rd Christmas and he’s already onto the game. Recently, he asked for a bedtime story that we’ve made up about a salmon named Sammy. And when we obliged and start telling the story, he says, “Wait! Tell me the Christmas version.” We recently borrowed holiday themed books with some of his favourite characters, and it seems like he has made the connection that if there is an imagined world, then that world has a Christmas version too.

As we send Santa our Christmas wish, set out cookies, fill stockings,  lay out presents once our little humans go to sleep, and tell Christmas versions of bedtime stories… are we participating in one big con that will one day come undone and jeopardize all the trust we’ve built with our children?

Before you let this keep you up at night or have you banishing all things related to old Saint Nick, here is how to “do” Santa and Christmas with a respectful parenting lens.

toddler looking at a lit christmas tree

A Santa Story:
The respectful parenting way

Yes, you can keep the magic of Christmas without the icky feeling of being dishonest with your children. Here are four guiding principles on how to do just that.


1. Enter the World of Make-Believe

One of the beautiful things that emerge from around 2 years of age is imaginary or fantastical play. Just like we would pretend a wooden farm animals can speak to each other or the emergency vehicles need to rescue a burning block tower, Christmas is a big elaborate make-believe world filled with wonder and stories.

Focus on telling the legend, believes, and ideas about this holiday. Bring your children into the world by asking them questions and going with their story line. Let them control some of the ways Santa is imagined. It’s not about what’s the correct! It’s about exercising that budding imagination. You might just open your family up to new spin on the traditional stories and make it something that’s special just between you and your children.


2. Pick and Choose the Storylines

Just because you’ve adopted the Christmas story doesn’t mean you need to keep every storyline! The things to loose are anything that brings a reward system for good behaviour. The short-term obedience that it may conjure from your child is not worth the toll on your child’s genuine motivation to cooperate with the family. No one likes to be conditioned.

There is also an issue with labelling. A child isn’t good or bad just like no one is all good or all bad. Everyone is capable of choosing to do something good or bad. Our temporary behaviour doesn’t become our solid identity!

So skip the naught-or-nice storyline (because it is also creepy that Santa is always watching, isn’t it?) Instead, focus on the spirit of giving. Speak about what it means to give and how it may make others feel to receive a gift, how it makes you feel.

Lean into gratitude and sharing the things we have with others. This is a great way to support the development of empathy and mindfulness for our youngest citizens.


3. Listen. Respond with questions.

There comes a day sooner than you’d think that your children will start asking questions about some of the stories around Christmas. Ask any parent of a two year old and they will tell you that no matter how you answer “Why” questions, the toddler will just ask “Why?” repeatedly.

A big part of that is because we haven’t really tuned into what they are really wondering about. We are quick to answer with facts when what our children want is connection over this topic. So when the questions about Christmas start coming in, slow down, take a pause, you don’t have to answer with fact. Instead, ask a question back to explore the topic with them. “What is it you believe?” “Hmm… What do you think?” are good starting points.

4. When the jig is up, make room for the emotions 

Whether your child come to the conclusion themselves or the fantasy bubble is burst for them, it’s okay to confirm that Santa is great story and no, there is not one Santa.

This may bring up some emotions as your child grief this lost. This is okay and normal, and you should encourage them by making space for the outpouring of feelings! It’s a great way for parent and child to learn that all emotions are okay to express.

And in time, you can still keep the magic alive. Once again, focus on the meaning of Christmas and how it felt to have lived in this wonderful story and how they can continue this story all the same. After all, we all enjoy good stories and fantasies.


The holiday season is a great time for building warm and cozy traditions, develop a joy for giving, and indulge in a fantasy world. Abandon the Santa narratives that mainstream media promotes controlling children’s behaviours, teaching them to suppress themselves in order to gain some material goods. That doesn’t serve you, and it doesn’t serve your relationship with your children. However you spend your holidays, know that you can enjoy the magic of Christmas while still maintaining the respect and unconditional love with your little ones. 


Check out other recent posts on Imperfect Parent

 6 Steps to Setting Limits with your Toddler

 How to Make Toddler Transitions Easier