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Can Santa Help Us Teach Empathy and Gratitude?

A few minutes ago I was in the local post office in the lovely seaside town where I work (yup! – nice right??!) There was a long queue, people posting parcels to loved ones, emigrants, to the UK, US and Canada mostly, the odd Australian and New Zealand weight check. We Irish tend to spread ourselves across the globe. Anyway, right there in the middle was the giant red sparkly magic post box for Santa’s letters – and wow, it was full!!


I idly wondered as I queued, what was written in those letters? What were all the requests? How were they worded? Were they privately written without parental watchful eyes? Were they co-written? Were they demanding? Polite? Humble? Hopeful? Grateful?

What could we learn about these future grown-ups if we were to break a sacred rule and read all those letters? How many of them would be just adorable? (We’ve all seen some, and they are, really, adorable) and how many might irritate or even scare us? How many children would have such huge expectations and demands that we feel crushed under the pressure of meeting them? Would we be devastated by the greed we see in cute crooked little handwriting?

Your child’s Santa letter, if they write one, might have already been posted to the big beardy guy. And maybe you already do these things that I’m about to suggest! If so – super cool! And if not, these post office wonderings of mine are for you:

What would it be like to encourage your child to write not just for themselves but for their unmet playmates in Syria, Baghdad, or – at this stage – anywhere! These unwilling emigrants, like your forefathers, our cousins, our siblings. Or maybe for local kids, neighbours who have little or nothing.

                                       Imagine having literally nothing.

What values could we teach our children by guiding them to consciously think of these other kids as they write to Santa for stuff they want.


Kids who look just like them,  have the same needs and dreams –  what if your child included a written wish for them? Even if you, as an adult, have the heartbreaking awareness that this wish may not ever come true.

Children who are very young are not capable of true empathy, at least not in the adult sense, but it’s never too early to teach it. Children as young as five are indeed well capable of learning.

Younger children can learn to share, to show gratitude. A simple addition to your child’s Santa letter might be to ask for something on another’s behalf, a toy, a blanket, a kind word from a helper. You might want to include small things that your child will be familiar with, and might appreciate more through this little exercise. Something your child might understand and wonder about what it feels like to not have these basic things on demand, never mind luxuries like games, electronics, TVs, pools.

This is not about guilt or shame of abundance, it’s about compassion and gratitude. 

Another addition might be a thank you note to thank Santa for what he brought last year – can they remember? And they may not! But that’s OK, they can still write what they are grateful for, even if it wasn’t a Santa gift, it’s the being grateful is what matters. And Santa will love to hear about that! And it’s a good thing to teach that people, even Santa, like to be thanked. Wouldn’t it be cool to have another letterbox in the post office for the January thank you letters?? I can dream… 🙂

Acknowledgement, affirmation, empathy and kindness are the building blocks of a good and working civilisation. Our children will be responsible for governments, policies, the world. And Santa, as it turns out, could, in a very real way, really help!!

Wishing you all a lovely holiday season again,



Sally O'Reilly

Sally O’Reilly is an IAHIP, ICP and EAP accredited Counselling Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Clinical Supervisor with nearly twenty years of professional experience. Her particular area of expertise and interest is work with teenagers. She enjoys a busy full-time private practice and has developed and facilitated a personal development, substance misuse and sexual health programme for teenagers for over 15 years. She is a regular contributor to national print and radio media.
Sally is also the co-author of Two Wise Chicks.
Feel free to follow Sally on: Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin


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