Is it ever okay to lie to children?

Since there have been a large amount of Christmas discussions here, I would like to ask a question regarding the ethics of Santa Claus (or Father Christmas, as we call him), whom I am undecided on.

Whilst I have no issue with treating Santa as part of the holiday (blasphemous, I know) season, I am undecided as to the ethics of treating him like he exists to children. Under normal circumstances, this would be lying, so why is it okay when it’s Christmas? I don’t deny there are positive aspects of Santa Claus, whom (lets face it) introduces kids to a character akin to the Biblical God.

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For me, it a very important part of parenting. How do you expect your teenager to trust you when they already know how many times you have lied to them as a child? For this reason, my wife and I promised never to knowing lie to our daughter. She is now 22 and there has never been in point in her life that she did not tell us everything in her life.

This caused a number of issues when she was in school with other children who believed in the Easter bunny or Santa Claus. It made for great teaching moments to discuss at a very young age the different beliefs that parents pass down to their children, and how to respect them.

For me, knowingly lying to your child is the same as indoctrination, which is a sin against your child’s spirit. This is the worst sin that anyone can commit. I highly recommend tempering your comments about things you know are not facts by saying “I believe…” or “Some believe…”

Happy Holidays


I still remember hearing the collective gasp of the busy post office room when the clerk asked my 4-year-old son if he was ready for Santa Claus and he responded, “Santa’s not real!” :stuck_out_tongue: (Fortunately there were no other children there – we’ve since had a conversation about “Santa etiquette.”)

So yes, I tend to agree with you that it doesn’t seem right to tell my children something that I know is not true. Of course, there are times when I withhold information from them because I don’t think they’re emotionally ready to handle it (we’ve already had a conversation about “virgin” since we read the Christmas story this year, and I definitely left some things out!).

But I want to be careful not to judge parents who do things differently, or did in the past – they have their reasons.

I also agree that there are positive things about Santa Claus – I like what I’ve heard of the stories of Saint Nicholas – it sounds like he was simply taking Jesus’s words seriously about caring for the poor and giving generously, and I think that’s entirely in keeping with the spirit of Christ’s life and teachings.


We treat Santa-belief kind of like belief in a young earth: Kids, you know some families teach this; they’re very wrong, and their beliefs are based on lies, but it can cause problems if you tell them that.

…and I see it the same way. If I’m not honest with my kids about Santa and a six-day creation, how will they believe me when I tell them Jesus rose from the dead?

Edit, P.S. I realize that what I tell my kids does not not epitomize gracious dialogue with other views. Typically I say these things inside my home, so I don’t need to sugar-coat…

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There’s a difference between lying and pretending/acting. The line between pretend/acting and real life is often kind of blurry with kids, who slip in and out of their imaginations all the time. I think as long as you are “doing Santa” (or the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny) in a way that cues kids it’s pretend and everyone is acting and it’s fun to imagine things and you aren’t being intentionally deceptive or taking advantage of their naivete, it’s fine.

We treated Santa as a fun make-believe game everyone plays at Christmas time. That kept my kids from cynically informing other children it was all lies (they were more than happy to “play along” whenever Santa was mentioned or showed up at gatherings) and it kept them from having some kind of devastating “Santa’s not real” epiphany.


Agreed. Actually, part of what we tell them is, Santa and the tooth fairy are real! Mommy is Santa, and Daddy is the tooth fairy.

That’s worked well so far.


Hah! I’m the Tooth Fairy at our house, too. The kids even write a note to “Daddy, the Tooth Fairy” on the envelope they put under their pillow with the tooth in it.

We also have opted to tell our kids that Santa doesn’t exist, for the same reason as @Shawn_Murphy–we want them to know we take what we tell them seriously.

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I think most kids who grew up with Santa did fine, and really do not know any who were really traumatized by learning he was make believe, but agree with making it obvious up front that he is make believe but we can still enjoy the tradition. It also is a way to introduce kids to symbolism and layers of meaning with the giving tradition Santa embodies.
I remember the last year I played along with the Santa thing. I found the BB gun I was getting for Christmas but stayed quiet about it and played along with the Santa thing to make sure it showed up Christmas morning. I am sort of embarrassed that a kid old enough to have a BB gun still believed in Santa, but you do what you have to do.


Your avatar doesn’t seem to be showing any eye-patches. So you never shot your eye out?!


I did shoot my brother once, but he needed shooting, as we say down here. It was a different world, I had a BB gun since age 5, but was at probably 9 that year.

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A different world indeed. My dad let me have (amazingly, it would seem now) fairly free and unsupervised reign with a BB gun and later an air rifle around our farm yard. Don’t remember how old I was (older than 5 I’m sure). I was told which the friendly birds were that I was not to shoot at - like the barn swallows that eat mosquitoes. But as I recall there were few creatures in the world safer than those on the other end of my BB gun sights. Which was probably a good thing. The only bird I ever remember killing was one of those I wasn’t supposed to. We won’t talk here about what else I may have done with such toys. My parents are both gone now, but I’m still not sure about other statutes of limitations.

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One of our missionary neighbors at age 40 still had a BB in his tongue that his brother had put there when he stuck it out at him! He could roll it back and forth in his teeth.

Ok…that’s getting gross.

It sounds like it’s a good thing I don’t have brothers. … at least not any more! Okay, that sounded unnecessarily ominous. I never did have a brother (but have gained some terrific brothers-in-law in my adult life).

Better be careful or my attempted humor may sound a bit like Steven Wright’s remark:
“My parents had a quick-sandbox for us to play in. I was an only child … eventually.”


When I was in Kindergarten I heartily “evangelized” the other kids by telling them Santa wasn’t real. I didn’t really know that anyone believed in Santa at the time. The teacher diplomatically solved the problem by saying that everyone should go home and ask their own parents. I think my parents got a note, and then they sat me down to explain what I had done.

We’ve always been honest with our kids, and we also said that pretend is still fun. Claus is actually a genuine last name in my family, so we always joked that Santa Claus was just a relative. :slight_smile:


I think we lie to children in some cases as a conservative habit. Old and grim fairy tales weren’t grim for nothing. Children are given an exaggerated sense of the danger in the world for a reason. Then they grow up and begin to discover that wondering into the forest doesn’t usually end by becoming witch’s prey. Or they grow up and discover that fire doesn’t always burn - you can put your finger quickly through a candle flame. In their exuberance of discovery that their cautious parents were not letting them in on the whole truth, they may go on to discover for themselves why that over-cautious wisdom of withholding information - perhaps even deceiving in doing so - may have a vital service of its own to perform quite independent of naive notions of “pure” or non-discretionary truth. Advocates for earlier open sharing may have much good reason to allow children to be exposed to more truth much sooner than our present cultural norms want to allow, but if they think that discretion is then entirely dismissed by a priority for this “pure” truth, I’m not convinced that their children won’t end up paying the higher price for what may turn out to be nothing more than parental indiscretion.

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I wonder if it’s possible that the reluctance among many Christian parents to make room for Santa is connected to the hijacking of the Christmas Spirit by commercial manipulation.

The story of Santa evolved gradually over time in a Christian context, so the roots of Santa lie in our deep yearning to express the Christmas Spirit – to find ways to express the Divine relationships that lie at the heart of Christmas.

There’s something about the original Christian Santa that has nothing at all to do with facts or logic or the mind. But this doesn’t make it any less true.

I think we need to be careful about closing off the avenues that make it possible for children to participate in the Christmas mystery in age-appropriate ways.

There will be many years ahead of them to sort out questions of fact, logic, and mind. But the heart and soul need nurturing, too, and the Christian Santa (not the commercial Santa) is one way to squeeze a very big Divine mystery into a child-friendly package our young ones can relate to.


Because it’s done for fun and not any other hurtful or ulterior motive. The end of the story when the truth is revealed is always in sight.

From the very first Christmas that we celebrated with our daughter in the neonatal ICU we have celebrated the anniversary of the coming of the King of Heaven. Each year we talked more and more about His mission on Earth to save all of the fallen, and why we celebrate His human birth.

Why perpetuate mysteries? Even if there are aspects of Jesus’ life that you are unclear of, why dwell on them? Christmas is the time year to reflect on the entire life of Jesus. What moral or ethical value does Santa Claus add? I just don’t see it.

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Some things are just fun. They also involve us in a shared experience with community. Now, Santa Claus has been grossly commercialized and I think has lost some of what makes tradition good, but in perspective I think is still fine for kids.

A similar thing is with the creeds. As you may have seen, there was a big to-do over Trump not saying the creed at Bush’s funeral, and it got me thinking how it was sad that in many evangelical churches, people never learn and never say the Apostle’s Creed, and increasingly, never say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. There seemed to be a movement some years ago in Baptist and other non-denominational churches to call it the “model” prayer and it ceased to be said together very often. Those things however bring us together in the catholic church and help us identify as one church. Now, that wanders a bit from Santa Claus, but still it is the shared experiences that bind us, and these days, we are pretty unbound.


My wife and I decided we would never lie to our kids, even for the sake of childhood fantasy. We found a way to tell them that Santa was make-believe character that some other kids believed in. I can honestly say that they had no problem with this and seemed to know instinctively that it was not a good idea to go around challenging other young children on the point. No drama, no trauma.