MomsGetReal Contributor Katie Bugbee

Legend has it that when I was five, I turned to my mom and said, “I get the whole Santa thing. He really lives in your heart.”

My mom was speechless, just nodded and said, “You’re exactly right.”

shutterstock_160197791The way I remember it was stopping at the Hess station with my dad, watching him go in and buying a Hess truck and then finding my annual gift from “Santa” under the tree the next week. Yes, he bought me a Hess truck every year. And yes, he threw it in the trunk thinking I wouldn’t catch on. So then I turned to my mom to let her know I was on to them.

Now that I’m a parent, I struggled with introducing the jolly ol’ man to my kids. I hate the idea of lying and building up this huge fantasy of flying reindeer, tiny elves and a giant toy factory in the great north. But when I talked to a friend about it, she told me that her parents were always honest about Santa – and for years she tried to convince herself they were lying – and that he did exist. So that’s when I decided to keep the fantasy alive.

Needless to say, you’ll be asked at some point if Santa is real. So here are some tips to handle the conversation:

1. Be Ready to Tell the Truth
Depending on your child’s age and if you think he or she is ready to handle it, be prepared to say something like, “He lives in your heart” or “It’s part of the giving spirit and magic of the holiday.” Be sure your child understands that this was not malicious and that Santa lives inside everyone – and he can even become Santa now for others.

2. Follow Her Lead
It’s possible that your child is asking you because friends at school said Santa wasn’t real. But the look on her face tells you she can’t handle the truth at this young phase of her life. If that’s the case, ask a question like “Why are you asking?” to get more info from her. Then ask her to tell you what she thinks about Santa.

3. Create Room for Questions
Kids are bound to have a lot of “why” questions. Why do people believe? Why isn’t he real? Who put the elf on the shelf all those mornings? Answer these calmly and respectfully.

4. Talk About the Meaning
Why do you think people create the idea of Santa? It makes Christmas even more fun – especially for the people who know he’s not real. My parents still give me presents from Santa. It’s fun for them and breaks up the monotony of gifts from Mom and Dad. Talk about the magic of the holidays and how special it is to give gifts to other people.

5. Don’t Ruin It for Believers

You want to make sure that no matter how you leave things with your children, they understand that there are true Santa die-hards in their neighborhood, classroom – and possibly their family. The idea now is to preserve the magic for others.

Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor and resident parenting expert of Care.com. A busy working mother of two, she’s an expert on many parenting dilemmas, from appeasing picky eaters to finding the perfect babysitter.