"They start seeing that spirit, and it then becomes less likely that they will want to ruin it for everyone else," Henderson said.
All of these transitions are in keeping with what experts know about the developing young mind, he said.
"The very nature of thinking during what's usually called the preschool years is pretty free-floating," Henderson said. "As best we can tell, this is how kids at that age exercise their minds."
At 3, 4, 5 years of age, especially, fantasy and reality tend to overlap, including figures such as imaginary friends, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.
"But kids gradually change, they gradually move to a kind of thinking that is much more concrete and rule-governed," Henderson said. "And as they do so, fantasy figures just drop out naturally as they start thinking more about how things are real and concrete. There's less room for fantasy."
Henderson said that age 6 is a typical "tipping point" in this regard, although this type of developmental curve can differ among children. But when children enter grade school, they can encounter new ideas about Santa that don't always mesh with what Mom and Dad have been telling them.
"And that's the real dilemma parents face -- am I going to push this, because it's been fun in the past?" Henderson said. "Parents can easily get into a situation where, if they are trying to maintain this facade, they have to come up with more and more fantastic explanations. And kids are too smart for that."
So, when fantasies like Santa begin to fade for your child, "you have got to take your cue from the kid," Henderson said. That means asking the child what he or she thinks and dealing with any doubts in a sensitive way.
According to the experts, the important thing to remember is that generations of children have handled
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