Ice Cream, Santa and the End of the World

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Kid Spin – Ice Cream, Santa and the End of the World.

“No honey, the music means the ice cream truck is out of ice cream.” I heard a mom say at a playground. The mom next to her laughed while I screamed inside. It wasn’t the first time I had heard that lie. A few months back I heard a DJ talking about raising kids and confessed his dad used to tell him that same line about the ice cream truck all the time.

“When I grew up and and found out the truth, I realized my dad was just a real ..” Well, we’ll just leave his sentence there. From my seat in the car – eyes wide, mouth open – I agreed that his dad must have been a total dirtbag, and told myself that this particular dirtbag-ery was an isolated case. Thanks to Playground Mom, I’m realizing it isn’t.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m the queen of kid spin – you know, the false advertising you slather on to get your kid out the door. Like announcing we were going to see Elsa’s art show (an ice sculpture venue) or Enchanted Forests (botanical garden) or even slathering on Butterfly Attracting Potion (sun screen) before going out. I’m not proud, but I’m a creative person, I kind of can’t help using kid spin when presented with a four-year-old daughter with the stubbornness of a lead mule. In cement slippers. Carrying an anvil. On the other hand, I pause when considering the damage in trust issues something like Santa Clause might cause at a later date. What is harmless? What is harmful? What is just cute fantasy and what becomes the makings of a snarky, bitter, resent-harboring radio professional?

I asked a child therapist for some answers, just to get an opinion better than “stop being such a hippie” when I fret out loud to friends and family. Curtis Knecht, LMFT, CPCC had this to say about it: “I believe the best way to teach is by example. My experience with families that practice a double standard with their kids (kids must tell the truth but it’s okay for parents to lie) is that it actually teaches kids that it’s okay to lie. I can guarantee that path leads to a whole pile of trouble. Telling the truth is a good thing. We all know this.”

So I’m thinking the Butterfly Attracting Potion is on its way out. But what about Santa? The Tooth Fairy? The Easter Bunny? “I believe these come under the heading of creating magical experiences for a child’s mind that yearns for that kind of magic. The key for me is when the child hits the point of knowing the truth, either from figuring it out on their own or hearing it from friends. At that point, it’s important to be truthful with our children, acknowledge the loss, admit to the deception in service of magic. Kids will get it and forgive you .” Curtis explains.

Ok, so I can keep my Elf on the Shelf out (he’s pretty much year round in our house) and then say what when she comes home on that fateful, end-of-the-world day when she hears the real deal about holidays from that mean kid at school? Curtis had some words of wisdom on this as well.

“This is a great teaching moment. It seems to be one of the “rites of passage” in our culture… a transition out of early childhood into middle childhood where you learn that there are complexities in the world. ‘When I learned there was no Santa Claus’ seems to be a shared ‘coming of age’ experience. If your child is angry when they learn this, I recommend listening to them, allowing them to tell you what’s going on… what they are thinking & feeling that’s making them mad… rather than getting defensive. Speak to their concerns. Help them understand the meaning and spirit of the “tale you spun”. Empathize with the loss of the dream. Share how you felt when you learned about it as a child. Help them see that the spirit of the “spun tale” will live on while the literal belief will die. Welcome them into a more grown up phase of their life.”

The choices we make as parents advising our kids on truth and fantasy have far-reaching consequences. What is inconvenient now can be devastating later. While I’m still iffy on the whole Santa-thing, I can definitely hold and promote the best advice distilled from my research with Curtis-  “lead by example”. Friends don’t let friends spread lies about ice cream trucks. After all, as parents, we are the number one example our children have.

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Julianne DiBlasi Black has written and illustrated several books, including “Sleep Sweet” the multi-award winning 3D animated children’s book. She is an internationally recognized graphic artist as well as full-time creative who works in a myriad of artistic mediums.  www.julianneblack.com Advice in this article from Curtis Knecht, LMFT, CPCCCurtisKnecht.com

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