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Do you believe in Santa Claus? Or better yet, what do you say to a child who asks, “Daddy, my friend Billy said there isn’t really a Santa Claus. Is that true?” Whew! Sometimes kids ask us questions that we don’t feel adequately prepared to answer, like “Where do you go when you die?” and “How do babies get out of mommy’s tummy?” Most of us stammer and sputter and bark out a bundle of facts that we later regret having said. Our kids walk away with a puzzled look on their faces, deciding God-only-knows-what about life and death and sex. There must be a better way, right?

The answer may lie in the following story. One day a priest was walking down the street and saw a little boy jumping up and down trying to ring a doorbell. Either the boy was too short or the doorbell was too high, but he wasn’t succeeding. The priest, wanting to be helpful, reached over and rang the bell for the boy, then looked down and said with a knowing smile, “What do we do now, son?” The little boy looked up and said, “Run like heck!”

We often assume we know what our children are thinking or feeling, and we act or talk out of this assumption. That’s where we get into trouble. The answer lies not in knowing the exact right answer but rather in first LISTENING - and then reflecting back their questions. Our job then becomes easier because we will get additional information about whether she needs reassurance, loving support for what she is thinking, a small answer, or is really asking for an in-depth response. Both parties are left feeling satisfied, supported, and closer.

Back to the original question: you reflect back, “It sounds like you are wondering if Santa Claus is real.” If your child says, “Well, I think there is a Santa Claus, because I saw his toy shop at the North Pole on TV.” Then you know what your child needs is gentle reassurance for his beliefs. You don’t need to torture yourself wondering if you are lying to him or ruining his future trust in you.

The next time your children surprise you with questions about Santa Claus (or life and death or sex or other BIG questions), you will know that the best answer lies not in what we say, but instead, in listening to what is behind the questions and providing support and reassurance. Besides, some of us still believe in Santa!

This column is taken from the Redirecting Children’s Behavior Newsletter, Vol. II. Other great tips are in Faber and Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, How to Listen So Kids Will Talk.