Ask the Doctor - Answers to your Parenting Questions

Appropiate age to talk about tooth fairy tale and other myths?

My very sensitive 8-year-old son asked me today if the tooth fairy really exists. He wanted to know if I was the one putting the money under his pillow, which I denied. I asked him the reason for his question and he told me that most of the kids in his classroom have told him that the tooth fairy doesn't exist. His response to his friends was that his mother (me) is not a liar, so his friends told him "Well, we think your mother is lying."

After a minute I understood that my son was at a disadvantage and could probably be teased in the future, so I told him the truth, to which he responded with tears of disappointment. He couldn't believe that all this time there was no tooth fairy. Or he was probably crying because I made him believe in something that doesn't exist. In my attempt to calm him down I kind of fell into my own trap, I told him that I put the money under his pillow a couple of times, but I don't know who did the other times. 

He also believes in Santa; even though I told him, when he was two, that Santa Claus existed but he died and whoever he sees as Santa is a man wearing a costume. He was ok with that, but many Christmas went by and he heard from friends and family about what was Santa bringing them, and naturally he started believing. I went with the flow, mostly because I was concerned about him telling other children about that Santa was a myth.
Could you please give me some advice?  

--  Jeanet

Dear Jeanet,

I always hesitate to give appropriate ages, since every child is different, but most kids seem to start asking whether the tooth fairy is real between ages 4 and 7, when they lose a lot of teeth and thus have the opportunity to experience the whole tooth fairy fantasy.   

It's my hypothesis that the kids who don't ask us may be are the ones who so love the fantasy that they don't really want to know the truth.

Unfortunately,  since children are so often determined to prove their "grown-up-ness" by denying and ridiculing their previous dependencies, many youngsters delight in telling their classmates that the tooth fairy isn't real.  The result is that most kids seem to hear about the tooth fairy from peers by age 7 if not before.

I can understand why you got rattled and "fell into your own trap."  Most parents wonder what to do in the situation you describe. And most parents, when their kids get upset, are tempted to back off and say anything to make things better.

Most psychologists suggest that children need to know they can trust their parents to tell them the truth, even about things like this.  In other words, when your kids ask if Santa, the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny are real, you should tell them the truth.

That's not always easy, of course.  We may feel we are crushing a belief that our child needs.  When my daughter was five years old, she asked me if the tooth fairy was real. When I told her no, she became very angry at me, not because I had lead her to believe that a make-believe character was real, but because she wanted so much for the tooth fairy to be real. I desperately wanted to hedge, so I know how you felt with your son. Somehow I resisted the temptation, and let her cry and rage, not just at the unfair world, but at me. Over and over, I reflected back to her how disappointed she was, and how much she wished the tooth fairy could be real, and how angry she felt at that moment at the world and at me.

My daughter is now twelve, and remembers this incident clearly. She told me recently that she thought that I did the right thing, and that she would have been even angrier at me if I had lied in response to her direct question. Even though she was disappointed that the tooth fairy wasn't real, she thinks it was better for me to tell her the truth when she wanted to know. But I still recall my own anxiety and internal debate about whether I was doing the right thing.

Your son will probably ask about Santa now that he knows about the tooth fairy, and it's my opinion that you should tell him the truth. But with Santa you can also explain about the real Santa, who is no longer alive in body, but whose spirit is manifest whenever people are generous with each other. And of course, you can affirm his wish that Santa and the Tooth Fairy would be real, and you can acknowledge and empathize with his disappointment.

I want to add that kids do get angry and disappointed, as we all do, and that this is not a terrible thing. As painful as it is for us to see them suffer, it is a gift to our children when we can accept those feelings rather than talking our kids out of them. It gives our kids the message that they are acceptable, messy feelings and all, and that we are always there to comfort them, not by denying the feelings, but by loving them through them.

View Older Comments

Melissa commented on 27-Apr-2010 01:18 PM
My oldest daughter is turning 10 this year (2010) and still says that she believes in Santa, the Easter bunny and the Tooth Fairy. She just lost a tooth on Sunday and put the tooth under her pillow Monday night. Well the toothe fairy never showed. She just thought that she didn't show because it was storming outside and couldn't make it through the storm. So she tried again on Tuesday night and when she woke this morning, wednesday, still no show from the tooth fairy. I had forgotten two nights in a row to put money under her pillow. Now she is very upset that the tooth fairy never showed. My fiance thinks that it about time she knows the truth because he thinks she is too old now to still believe. We have a younger daughter who will be turning 6 and as far as I know she also still believes. I want to tell my 9 year old but don't want her to freak out. She is a very emotional and sensitive little girl and I'm afraid of what that would do to her. Does anyone have any advice about what to do?
mommy of 3 commented on 07-Jun-2010 01:14 AM
my oldest girl is going to be 12 in july and still belives and my son is 10 and our little one is 5 so till the little one is older... i dont plan on telling mu kids anything as long as i can keep it going.. i will!!!!!
The Tooth Fairy commented on 23-Jul-2010 01:18 PM
10 year old still believes. About a year ago, I asked her about Santa, Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy. She told me the first two were not real, but the tooth fairy was. We don't celebrate Easter or Christmas, so I suspect that is part of the ease in disbelieving those. We have always talked about Fairies beyond the tooth fairy, and her room features both drawings and a mobile, so I think that when the tooth fairy is unveiled as Daddy, it is going to cause some consternation. But given her age, I think she will handle it better then a 7 year old would. At least that is my hope ;-)
Anonymous commented on 01-Sep-2010 02:40 AM
My little boy is going to be 5 in two months and today asked me point blank if the tooth fairy is real. He hasn't even had a loose tooth yet and is an only child, so I was caught completely off guard. I danced around it, telling him how I used to put my tooth under the pillow and get a dollar. He then asked AGAIN, if it's true that there is a tooth fairy. We have a family policy of never lying, so I continued to tell stories of my childhood and setting a trap to catch the tooth fairy (and failing...but nearly maimed my poor mother). He followed up with asking if the tooth fairy is dead! Finally at a loss and not wanting to fib, I promised him we can go on the computer and look up the tooth fairy tomorrow morning. He believes all answers can be found that way and was momentarily satisfied. He just woke up at 1am to remind me that we have to look up the tooth fairy first thing in the morning. (He's too stubborn for his own good sometimes). So here I am, at 2:30 am, not finding a single web site that will make the tooth fairy "come alive" and get me off the hook. Does anyone have any suggestions, good web sites, etc. before a sweet tradition is ruined before it even gets started!?!
Anonymous commented on 28-Sep-2010 12:42 PM
I think there is no "correct" way to deal with these questions....every child is different. When my oldest daughter was 8 she had become very suspicious of the tooth fairy and asked me several times about this...several times I hedged or gave vague answers. Well, finally she told me one night she was upset because she thought I was lying to her so I told her that if she asked me I would promise to tell the truth- and that is how she found out. She was actually thrilled, not disappointed at all, happy to be in on a "grown-up" secret. That was about 6 months ago....last night my youngest daughter, who is 7, asked me- she had been asking for a couple of days but I admittedly didn't out her off as long as I had her sister, mostly because it went so well with her sister. I answered her questions truthfully and although initially she was ok, seemed even happy to know, shortly thereafter I found her in her room sobbing because she was so upset and felt like she didn't know what to believe, she was devastated and clearly was not ready to know the truth. I did exactly what Jeanet did and fell into my own trap trying to calm her- told her I had only given her some of the things. In retrospect I should have known it would be different with my youngest as she has a much more active imagination and had written several notes to the fairy over the years (which I had responded to as the tooth fairy). So, now she has put a note under her pillow asking for the tooth fairy to tell her if she is real, and indicating that she still believes she is. She has made me promise I won't write a note to her so I am kind of trapped and I have to come completely clean tonight and deal with her complete disappointment. It will be very tough....wish me luck
JEN commented on 28-Oct-2010 12:53 AM
I am a mother of three with my oldest at 12 1/2, one at 10 1/2 and the youngest at 7 1/2. All three of my children believe in the toothfairy, Santa and the Easter Bunny and I am Jewish with a Christian husband. I FIRMLY believe in keeping the spirit alive even if it comes with a white lie. Life is so harsh so why not keep them believing. It gives hope. What benefit does it give you that you tell them this. When they are old enough to handle the truth share it with them. Some people never hear the bells on Santa's sleigh, I do. I'm Jewish. I want them all to be real for my children. What's wrong with magic. Life will hit them soon enough let them be young.
lorraine flett commented on 02-Nov-2010 07:15 AM
Here's how I deal with these issues - just my personal way, no idea if it's 'better' or 'worse' than any other method but it works for me...I have never 'told' my child about Santa/ToothFairy/EasterBunny etc. What I did was just let him hear other people's ideas and let it percolate down. Naturally he'd ask me and I'd say that I'd heard such and such or that when I was little I felt such and such. I always point oit that store Santas are just people in costume imitating the real thing and that merchandising is just people making money out of the concept, rather than part of the genuine experience. Other than that, I give no absolute answers and I always say 'I don't know because I don't know everything' to some of his queries. That way he takes 'evidence' (which I delight in planting!), such as pressies at Christmas and sugary footprints at Easter and he draws his own conclusions. In all aspects of life we try to use the concept of 'evidence based learning' so he will later, no doubt, re-examine the 'evidence' and conclude it was either insufficient or that he made a erroneous deduction. We will continue to tell him the truth, namely that we do not know whether Santa/ToothFairy/EasterBunny exists, as really no-one can empirically 'know' anything - we can just make the best possible guess based on currently available evidence. It's true. And anyway, I personally adore Easter Bunny etc and Santa is always good to me. Enjoy! As for people at school, do these friends know everything in the world? Are they the font of all knowledge? Of course not, they're just kids like your kid, with different opinions. Compare them to people of differing religious beliefs - each thinks s/he is 'right' but no-one can ever prove it, can they? Explain that they should not impose their beliefs on others who do w not want to share them. Apologies for length of this post but it bothers me that so many folk want to remove all harmless pleasures and all sense of imagination and creativity. What else is most art, other than illusions, imaginings???? L.
Debbie commented on 19-Nov-2010 03:53 PM
I really liked the message from Jen. Very wise words let the children be children don't take the magic away from them too soon. Let them enjoy life as a child should.
Daphie commented on 17-Dec-2010 02:13 PM
speaking thruth is christianity, then why should we lie to our kids about Santa. why can't w educate them from childhood about family giving presents during xmas and not santa.
Anonymous commented on 28-Apr-2011 02:13 AM
Quit lying to your children. It's pointless and the fantasy is all you trying to relive your childhood through your children. Why would they believe anything you say about serious questions like life, death, religion, if you've already spent 5-10 years
lying to them. It's sick. My mom told me the truth about each thing when I first asked. And I enjoyed all the holidays more understanding the meaning and symbolism - yes even as a child you can get it without your parents bold face lying to you. Magic? Deception
is more like it. They can believe in magic just like they enjoy Disney but they know that Mickey's not "real" but still enjoy him.
Anonymous commented on 29-Sep-2011 12:38 PM
My daughter asked me out of the blue last night if the tooth fairy is real (she is 9 - very sweet and and innocent). I said, "What do you think?" She responded, "I am asking what you think." I said, "You know what I think? I think if you stop believing,
they stop coming, so it is better to believe." Then, we just continued eating our dinner and that was the end of it. I have no idea if that was the right thing to say or not. That is what I said and for now that satisified her. When she brings it up again
(around Christmas, with Santa) I am going to say, "I know some of your friends no longer believe. Just don't tell them that you still believe. If you believe, he will still come. It can be our secret."
Princess commented on 30-Nov-2011 08:48 PM
I said the same to my daughter. "If you believe it, then it is true". She puts lot of effort every time. She writes cute letters and makes cards for Tooth fairy. It hurts her to not to believe as told by her friends at school. I am sure, she'll grow out
of it when the tooth falling cycle stops. It hurts me more to tell her the truth. She does know that Santa is not real though.
Mommyscrewup24 commented on 05-Jan-2012 08:51 PM
I am a mother of 4, and last night they all asked if tha T. Fair Y was real. So I said she is real. But then they took out a video camera! Then showed me a Tape! It was taped last night when my last born who is 4 lost a tooth.Apperantly she hid the camera
and it showed me in her room placing a dime under her pillow! She showed to her sisters and they got mad. The rest is terrible
Emily Diaz commented on 18-Mar-2012 08:48 PM
So long as there is hope, so long as there is fantasy, one shall be allowed to believe. Life is full of wonderful things that sometimes come to a sudden end. So why take away a hope, a fantasy or a dream if is not harming anyone. Tell your kids the truth
when they ask for it, but don’t tell them because you think they should not longer believe. Emily Diaz
Anonymous commented on 04-May-2012 10:23 PM
I had to Tell my kid who is 10 and she already new I was disipointed a little so I still said they were real. HELPPPP

Hide Older Comments

Search Q&A's