Dr Carl says for most parents the small fibs around Santa, the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy are not told with bad intent, instead, these lies are told to carry on magical family traditions in a culture that celebrates these mythical creatures.
She says these lies trigger a child’s imagination and for the child it is fun to believe in such creatures.
Dr Carl suggests however, that it is a good idea to tell children the story behind the magical creatures, not only because it adds to the excitement, but also because it will help when the child is ready to know the truth.
“When a child asks whether these creatures are real or myth, they are probably ready to know the truth,” she says.
“Parents can share how much fun it was to believe in such things with their children, and bring it back to the history, the tradition, and the joy at this point. That way, the child learns that the intent of this lie was good.
“While most lie telling is frequently condemned and discouraged, lie telling is also an important part of development for children. In fact, children’s developing understanding of lies and their actual lying is associated with the maturation of their cognitive abilities, such as their growing understanding of the mental states of others.
“Whether a lie is discouraged or encouraged by parents depends on the moral consequences and intent of the lie.”
Dr Sharman agrees that in terms of Santa, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, it is the intent behind the lie that is most important.
“Positive and high-functioning social intent would include understanding that children at their developmental stage have an intense curiosity and imagination and such ‘lies’ feed into their excitement and wonder about the world,” she says.
“It creates a positive association with Christmas-time that is likely to last a lifetime. By the time the child is old enough to realise Santa is made up, if they have well developed social understanding, they will also understand their parents’ motivation in going along with the game. That it was for their enjoyment and benefit.
“Children with poorer developed social skills may become quite angry however, and feel they have been deceived.
“They won't understand their parents’ motivation and be confused as to why their parents have lied to them.
“I would very much recommend against going along with the Santa/Easter Bunny myth in the case of children on the autism spectrum for example. They are unlikely to appreciate the social intent behind such deception.”