It’s that time of year again: overpriced chocolate bunnies and colourful chocolate eggs litter the grocery stores, and pastels are the palette of choice for the holiday decor. Easter is primarily a religious holiday, but it’s often overshadowed by that big, unnatural bunny who lays eggs made of chocolate for children to search for and devour. The Easter Bunny is just one of the trifecta of lies that parents tell their children each year, partnered with the Tooth Fairy and Santa, but there are some who believe that, as fun as it can be, the seemingly innocent fibs may actually be harmful to a child’s mental well-being.
And yet, for a Canadian couple who lost their foster children this year, simply for not following the holiday tradition of lying to their children, it’s even become a human rights issue. Derek and Frances Baars, whose religious beliefs prevented them from telling their foster children about the myth of the Easter Bunny, found themselves to be considered no longer fit to be foster parents in Ontario, Canada in 2016.
The year-long legal dispute that followed put their dreams of being adoptive parents on hold. Silly though it may seem to those who don’t partake in the religious aspects of the Easter holiday, for the Baars, telling their children that the mythical bunny, let alone Santa and the Tooth Fairy, was real was more than a white lie, it went entirely against their religious beliefs. For Derek Baars, who is training to be a pastor, no lie is too small:
“A lie is a lie, is a lie, is a lie — no matter how many times it’s told, whether it’s a supposed white lie, big or small.”
Lying About the Easter Bunny: A Matter Of Principle
The Baars are not the first parents to tell their children the unmagical truth about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa, and they probably won’t be the last. Doris Walker, the modern divorcee mom of one of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, opted to be honest with her young daughter about Santa Claus and other myths. Fictional though she may be, she’s still an example of many parents who, like the Baars, feel that telling their children these white lies may impact their child’s ability to trust adults. What’s more, there are several studies and articles that support this very theory.
To some, such as psychologist Christopher Boyle and mental health researcher Kathy McKay of the UK, the Easter Bunny, and the Santa myth, in particular, paired with the more modern (and, let’s be honest, completely terrifying) Elf on the Shelf, is actually as manipulative as it is scary. In fact, through the‘”Elf on the Shelf’, it is made clear that:
“no child can hide from the North Pole’s National Security Agency-style vigilance – an altogether terrifying thing when considered as an adult. Who among us could claim constant goodness if watched at all times?”
Easter Bunny: Just A Big Bunny?
However negative this opinion of the lovable creature is, it is far from unanimous. There are many others who would suggest that it’s for the child’s own benefit and that believing in the likes of Santa and the Easter Bunny can actually enhance a child’s ability to play at make-believe. A child’s imagination, as our beloved Mr. DressUp has always assured us, is something precious, and ought to be nurtured. In fact, make-believe can positively affect a child’s development.
Many studies have shown that engaging in fantasy play helps children to find creative solutions to problems, to gain a better understanding of complex emotions, and even to have a more definitive grasp on the difference between what is real and what is imaginary.
Other opinions suggest that being open about the vague reality of such myths can prevent children from genuinely believing they are real in the first place. If the idea of Santa remains to be more of an ideal than that of a physical being, then learning the truth is not so terrible. If the idea of Santa, for example, is more about being good and generous to others than it is about getting copious amounts of presents on Christmas morning, a child may benefit more from being in a position to give without reward than to receive without reason.
The Truth Will Out: Empower Your Children
Of course, the real test lies in the moment of the discovery of the truth. Professor of Psychology Jacqueline Woolley from the University of Texas suggests that leaving little clues for your children to help them learn on their own about the truth behind the myths will actually empower them. When children find out in their own ways about the Easter Bunny or Santa, they are often left feeling more confident in their stellar sleuthing abilities, and in turn feeling less like they were deceived.
However you intend to inform your children of these myths (or not), the most important part is to consider your own child and their understanding of the world. Teach them kindness and generosity of spirit, and they may find that in truth, they were their own little team of Santa’s helpers all along. Teach them greed and possession? You may be in a position of disappointing your tiny human.
Whether it’s the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa himself, how and when you decide to reveal the truth about these lovable friends to your most precious creations is important to their development. So take care, take the time, and be gentle. In the words of Albert Einstein, “to stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.”