Psychologists led by Dr. Candice Mills at the University of Texas conducted a study involving 48 children, ages six to 15, to unravel when kids typically stop believing in Santa Claus. The children answered questions about how they learned the truth and their resulting emotions, while their parents shared perspectives on promoting the Santa myth. In a separate part of the study, 383 adults reflected on their transition from belief to disbelief in Santa.

On average, the study found that children stopped believing in Santa around the age of eight. To minimise potential negative emotions when kids learn the truth, the psychologists advised parents that children tend to become skeptical at around age seven or eight. Those who discover the truth at an older age are more likely to feel predominantly negative emotions.

The study discovered that most children were informed by someone else that Santa wasn’t real, although some independently developed skepticism through logical thinking. Parents might question whether to gently disclose the truth or let children figure it out independently. However, the study recommends a middle ground to prevent distress.

About one-third of children and half of the adults reported experiencing some negative emotions upon discovering the truth, especially if their parents heavily endorsed Santa’s existence. Adults who solely felt negative emotions tended to have discovered the truth at an older age and learned it abruptly.

The psychologists suggested that transitioning children away from belief in Santa should involve altering their experiences, reducing promotion, and allowing them to naturally conclude that Santa isn’t real. While a formal conversation might not be necessary, there comes a point when certain actions, like leaving out milk and cookies or carrots for reindeer, might push the Santa myth too far.

Allowing children to uncover the truth about Santa may aid in their cognitive development by encouraging questioning and evidence gathering, fostering “intellectual humility.” However, if a child is in their double-digit years and still inquiring about Santa, it might be time for parental intervention—they might not be cut out for detective work.

Despite the initial disappointment, the psychologists reassured that the majority of children who experience the truth about Santa aren’t significantly affected in the long run. Ultimately, until children become skeptical, they tend to relish the enchantment of the Santa story.

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