The magic of kids believing in Santa is a special time of childhood, but there is a time when they outgrow it. If you grew up believing in Santa, you may remember happy memories of believing in Saint Nick and you may also remember the moment you found out he wasn’t real. For some, he drifts away, for others it is a formative moment to discover the big secret.
Guarding the secret until then can be stressful, but if you know what age to expect the jig will be up, that may help. Will your kids hear it at school, from an older sibling, a cousin, on TV, or online? Should you safeguard against it or let it happen? We’ll go over when to expect kids to stop believing in Santa, why they stop, and how to handle it.
Multiple surveys and studies from the United States and around the Western world show that the typical age that kids stop believing in Santa Claus is age 8.
House Method surveyed over 4,500 American adults in November 2019 and found that the average age they stopped believing in Santa Claus was 8.4 years old. Zero to 10% of respondents never believed in Santa, depending on the state they were from. They also found the average age varied by state, with the average age in Mississippi being 10.2 years old and 7.4 years old in Oregon.
This trend tracks outside the United States as well. Psychologist Chris Boyle of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom received responses from 1,200 people from around the world and found that the average that children stopped believing in Santa was also age 8.
These numbers seem to be holding steady, despite the availability of information online. A study published in 1978 in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry found that the number of children believing in Jolly Saint Nick sharply dropped at age 8. At age 4, 85% believed. At age 6, 65% still believed. At age 8, only 25% still believed.
There are common pitfalls that break a child’s belief in Santa by raising suspicion. If you’re trying to extend the time your children participate in the idea of the jolly visitor from the North Pole or make sure they don’t find out at too early of an age, here are some common ways the discovery is made:
- Recognizing parents’ handwriting on gift tags
- Recognizing wrapping paper used for other presents or seen at home
- Catching parents setting up presents or eating Santa’s cookies on Christmas Eve
- Finding presents at home (i.e. hidden in the closet, delivered to the door, being carried from the car) before Christmas
- Santa at the mall or otherwise in public not acting jolly, not knowing a detail, not looking the same as another Santa they met before
- Google searches
- Seeing online ads for requested gifts
- Questioning the feasibility of one person making a journey around the world in one night with so much to deliver, reindeer flying, or other magic
- An older child telling them Santa isn’t real
- Seeing an adult on the news, a movie, or a TV show talk about how Santa isn’t real
Some of these things you can control and some of these you can’t, but you can do your best!
The same British study mentioned above found that a third of those surveyed reported feeling upset when they found out Santa isn’t real. On the bright side, that means you have a 2 out of 3 chance your child will at least not even remember feeling upset at the news. That survey also found that two-thirds of children said they continued to play along and pretend Santa was real even after they knew, which is great news for those with sibling sets trying to get older kids to keep the secret for younger ones.
A viral Facebook post from 2016 has caught on as a popular way of reframing the news not as a lie, broken dream, loss of trust, or destruction of innocence, but instead as a rite of passage of growing up, joining a cool club, and being part of spreading the Christmas spirit. The mom of this now-famous post writes that when a child is six or seven and becoming suspicious, sit them down and tell them you’ve noticed them growing up and they seem ready to become a Santa Claus. Kids who are ready are let into the know and they help deliver presents. Parents can task these children with choosing a person and delivering a present without getting caught.
Like all of childhood, belief in Santa Claus is a temporary joy. No matter when or how your child transitions out of the phase, the years of wonder at the magic and gifts will stay with them. Only 15% of respondents to the previously mentioned British study said they felt betrayed by their parents when they found out the truth, and if you use the “becoming a Santa” strategy it could be an even smoother transition. And don’t worry — Christmas can and will still be fun without Santa Claus.
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