What does a parent say when a child asks, “Mommy/Daddy, is Santa real?”
In an article, “The Power of Magical Thinking,” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Dr. Jacqueline Woolley, a professor at University of Texas at Austin, suggests parents answer the question with: “Is there something you saw or heard that makes you think Santa isn’t real?” or “What do you think?” This way a parent can determine how strong the child’s doubts are. Maybe all the child needs for reassurance is: “It’s fun to believe in Santa, isn’t it?”
The younger the child, the greater the need for magical thinking. In a study of children and the Tooth Fairy, Dr. Woolley found, not surprisingly, that 65% of five year olds believed in the Tooth Fairy, 54% of seven year olds believed and only 24% of nine-year olds believed. As children’s cognitive skills develop, the less likely they are to believe in the Tooth Fairy and other “magical” figures. At nine, children are more likely to use logic and cognitive skills to figure out just who the tooth fairy might be. They might not reveal they’ve caught on as they want the dollars or coins to magically appear under the pillow.
Dr. Woolley explains that imagination is vital to a child’s development. Imagination not only allows a child to conceptualize a historical event or epoch or ponder the future but also allows your child to understand someone else’s pint of view. Autistic children do not engage in much pretend play, leading some specialists to theorize that the lack of this pretend play contributes to their social deficits. Imagination builds your child’s capacity for empathy.
A child’s ability to engage his/her imagination is a strength. Children can “fix a problem with their imagination.”
So encourage your child to role play. Encourage your child to use his/her imagination. Don’t forget to read to your child as this activity not only engages your child’s imagination but forms a close bond between parent and child. Think of all the imaginary worlds open to both of you.