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

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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.

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