THE BLOG

Do You Unmask the Tooth Fairy?

12/07/2011 03:00 pm ET | Updated Feb 06, 2012
  • Dr. G Clinical Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

The myth of the tooth fairy starts in about kindergarten. It seems to boil down to this:

Losing a tooth might be scary but everybody makes a big deal out of it and then You Get Stuff!

I think this is a really fun tradition. Most kids love it, eagerly awaiting their first loose (that little sucker can hang on forever, can't it?) and then lost tooth. Even when a child cries at the pinch of a tooth coming out, classmates and teachers and sibs remind him of the gift to come.

Parents encourage the child to put it under the pillow and then they try like heck to remember to exchange the tooth for some type of present or cash. According to a study reported earlier this year in some tiny weird news article, kids in America get, on average, $2.60 per tooth. Man, my kids are dragging that average way down. But I digress.

Fast forward a year or two. The age of blind faith in magical creatures starts to fade (or a snarky kid plants the seed of doubt) and you get The Question: "Mommy, is The Tooth Fairy real?"

Now I know this isn't as racy a topic as telling your kids about sex, but here I am, once again advocating for telling our kids the uncomfortable truth.

The Tooth Fairy is a game. Playing that game, like so many others, makes fun times and great memories and there is nothing wrong with it! But when your child looks you straight in the eye and basically says "Is this a game or is this real?" I think you owe it to your kid to say "This is a game."

I know that some parents feel that would crush the beautiful, innocent soul of their believer. I say two things:

1. Kids are more resilient than that.
2. Truth matters. *

When we tell our kids the truth about something we are saying "You can count on me." There are lots of "facts" our kids will hear in their young lives. Contrary to what they may learn from their peers, their teachers don't live at school, sniffing household cleaner is not a safe way to get high, and you can get pregnant the first time. We want them to come to us as fact-checkers, and we'd best be more accurate than Susie or Deshaun on the playground.

You don't have to spoil all the fun. When pressed about the Tooth Fairy facts, you can say "It's a game, sweetie."

Kids spend hours a day suspending their disbelief in games, stories and movies. A ten-year-old will look at you with complete seriousness when explaining that you can't possibly turn on the TV to watch a game because it is the secret underwater evil cave dweller's weapon and the remote control will detonate a megaton bomb, thus obliterating your house from the face of the earth. Once they understand the ground rules, kids up to and beyond puberty are developmentally capable of proceeding with happiness into the world of make believe, not at all bothered by the fact that it isn't really true.

Even better, children love to be let in on grownup truths. You can make it clear to your child that one of the rules of this game is that only parents are allowed to tell their kids the facts about the Tooth Fairy. This way, your little angel doesn't end up being the snarky truth-teller of second grade.

*Please note, I am NOT offering any opinions one way or the other about the Santa Issue. I (and my Jewish ten foot pole) will be way over here not touching that big, emotionally-charged issue over there. See?