updated 12/24/2003 8:12:33 AM ET 2003-12-24T13:12:33

We all remember when we first found out the truth about Santa. But how do you break the news to the kids?  When is the right time to tell the truth?

Child psychologist Robert Butterworth gives parents some advice:

Parents are terrified to tell kids the truth about Santa.  We thought talking about the birds and the bees would be a problem, but the Santa is really worse.  And here‘s how you do it:  Keep the myth to kids about 5 and under. Most of them, when you survey them, still believe. 

But kids 7 years old? If a child was 7 years old, 75 percent of their classmates in school don't believe in Santa anymore.  It is either you tell them in a nice way or they are going to find out from their friends.  And trust me, it is not going to be done in a nice way by their friends.

So sit down, and talk about it with them. They probably already have questions like: How does the fat man can make all the houses in one night? How in the world can he go down the chimney? And my personal dilemma as a kid, how does he know if I‘m naughty or nice?

So you sit down with your kids and say, “Now it‘s time for you to be Santa. So you‘re old enough to now take part in starting to understand that Christmas is not just getting something from the fat guy, but giving and being Santa yourself.” And they like being told that they’re “old enough” and are now privy to some knowledge.

And you should also ask them not to tell their little brothers and sisters. Believe it or not, most kids don‘t want to spoil it for the little ones, because they realize that it's been great fun for them and they know what it was like.  And if you do it in a nice way—and most kids are not vindictive to the point where they will do that—they will make the transition and they will play Santa as well. 

When you talk to the kids and you say, “it is time to talk about Santa,” watch their faces, because they will start to smile. They kind of already knew all about it, but they didn‘t want to disappoint their parents. 

So, most kids about 7 or 8--psychologically the age of reason—they are figuring these things out.  They have kind of thought about it,  and they need parents to kind of sit down and tell them, so they won‘t be confused. 

Believe it or not, it is not going to spoil their Christmas or their holidays.  Kids are going to feel like they fit in with the older kids. 

This was the No.1 story on the Dec. 22 edition of 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann.'


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