The Easter Bunny, Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy are part and parcel of growing up for most children. Many parents regard these fantasy figures as essential to help stimulate kids’ imaginations. But should this be encouraged?
The experts’ take
“Myths and fables are important,” Durban educational psychologist Reyhana Seedat says. “Fables such as the Easter Bunny help kids to develop their imagination.”
But she warns parents should take a child’s age into account when telling them these stories. “Children older than five should gradually be exposed to the truth.”
Cape Town clinical psychologist Jenny Perkel who also has a parenting blog at jennyperkel.com says parents who avoid fables because of their religious beliefs should try to compromise.
“You can raise your kids with stories from the Bible and fables,” she says. “You don’t have to neglect either.”
Christian parents can for instance tell their kids the biblical Easter story and follow it up with an Easter egg hunt, she says.
But Dr David Kyle Johnson, a philosophy lecturer at King’s College in Pennsylvania, America, writes in Psychology Today that myths and fables are an unjustified lie which can undermine your child’s trust in you and encourage gullibility.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your child about the Easter Bunny at all. Dr Johnson’s advice to parents is that they tell children upfront the character doesn’t really exist but that they can pretend it does for fun and because an Easter egg hunt for instance is a great family activity.
“You don’t have to trick them into believing that Santa is real in order for them to play that way,” he writes.
How do I tell my child the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist?
Perkel says you can wait until your child starts suspecting the truth herself. “Ask your child if she thinks the Easter Bunny is real,” she says. “If she says yes, let her be until she discovers the truth herself.
“If she says no, use it as a starting point to chat about logic.” Tell your child even though the Easter Bunny doesn’t exist, creativity and imagination are important. What should you do if the truth upsets your child?
“Your child can find out from his brothers, sisters or schoolmates that the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny and Father Christmas don’t exist,” Perkel says. “It’s one of life’s important lessons and teaches kids to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.
“Be sympathetic and tell him you’re sorry he had to hear the Easter Bunny isn’t real. Suggest that you can still have Easter eggs and make him understand you don’t have to stop having fun just because the Easter Bunny is a story.
“The traditions which you enjoy as a family can carry on even if you no longer believe in a myth.”
My child feels cheated because I lied about the Easter Bunny. What now?
My child exploits the situation
If your child uses tales about the Easter Bunny, Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy to get money, chocolate or gifts, it’s a sign they’re ready to hear the truth, Perkel says.
She says parents must be firm: if your child insists on getting more money or gifts make it clear the Tooth Fairy and Easter bunny don’t negotiate!
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