For some suggestions about how to approach issues of honesty and truth-telling in an age-appropriate way for children, try these links:
To read the Parenting magazine article that provoked this column, go here.
Daley also recommends these books on honesty, and specifically about talking with kids about death.
On honesty and lying:
For parents: “Why Kids Lie - How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness” by Paul Ekman
For kids: “The Berenstain Bears and The Truth” by Stan and Jan Berenstain
“Don't Tell a Whopper on Fridays!” by Adolph Moser
On talking about death:
For parents: “The Grieving Child - A Parent's Guide” by Helen Fitzgerald
For kids: “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf ” by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D
“I Don't Have an Uncle Phil Anymore” by Marjorie Pellegrino
And to ease your mind about any Santa Claus tall tales you’ve told this month, here are some research findings cited in “Benefits of Belief,” an article by David N. Miller in the December issue of Communiqué, a publication of the National Association of School Psychologists:
Child development research (Bowler, 2005) suggests that children have a secure belief in Santa Claus at about age 5, followed by a period of doubt at about age 7, and disbelief by age 9. One study of children who no longer believed reported mostly positive reactions when they ultimately learned the truth, suggesting that this "rite of passage" is a benign transition (Anderson & Prentice, 1994).
Belief in Santa Claus, as argued by some, can have the following benefits:"Encouraging children to believe in a benevolent Santa may foster traits of kindness and cooperation." (Breen, 2004, p. 455)
Dixon and Hom (1984) found that first-grade children increased their donations to children with handicaps after hearing a story about Santa Claus.
Slotterback (2006) found that children's requests to Santa Claus for gifts for other people increased in 2001 and 2002 after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.
Researchers have seen the myth of Santa as a vehicle through which children can be taught a variety of important social lessons. For example, the practice of leaving a snack out for Santa and his reindeer conveys to children the importance of generosity and reciprocity (Bowler, 2005).
The ability of young children to engage in magical thought and fantasy such as that surrounding Santa Claus can promote both creativity and cognitive development (Green, 2004).
A belief in Santa Claus has also been described as potentially useful for enhancing children's moral development (e.g., "He knows if you've been bad or good..."), for reinforcing good behavior, and as a symbol for hope (Breen, 2004).
Belief in Santa Claus also allows the opportunity for parents and caregivers to teach the importance of expressing gratitude for the gifts they receive (Froh, Miller, & Snyder, 2007).
Ultimately, a belief in Santa Claus may give children "a sense of mystery and wonder, an altered view of the passage of time, a taste of magical thinking, an exercise in imagination, and a chance to practice kindness" (Bowler, 2005, P. 242). Even when children reject the material reality of Santa Claus, as will inevitably occur, the deeper truths and moral lessons the myth has contained, as well as a number of hopefully joyful memories, may remain powerful and active as children grow up (Bowler, 2005).
Material adapted with permission from the National Association of School Psychologists, 2007.
(Gerry Bowler, cited several times above, is author of “Santa: A biography”)