Question: The Tooth Fairy causes so much trouble in our house. The problem is that other children’s parents give generous amounts of money or large gifts when their child loses a tooth. I was brought up to get a coin and that’s what I have been doing with my son- slipping a coin under his pillow. But we have just had tears and tantrums because his best friend just got a box of Lego and that’s what he was hoping for too.
I am tempted to kill the Tooth Fairy off. What do you think?
At some point or other every parent has to deal with the problem of breaking the news about the reality of the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny or Santa, though Santa is usually the last to go. These characters are different from other magical beings that inhabit a child’s life. To solve your problem, you may want to think of this in the wider picture. And yes, the newsletter will deal with the money bit too, but later!
Your child’s world is inhabited by dragons and unicorns, Spiderman and other super-heroes, fairies and Paddington Bear, Garfield and Peter Pan and so many more. Every cartoon is about the improbable or impossible- animals that talk, outer-space adventures, inanimate objects having a mind of their own etc. Usually, the main character has a role to play that will eventually solve a problem. To do this a number of things have to go wrong and be overcome, there is a challenge by an outside agency to the hero’s intention and often there is a celebration at the point of resolution. It doesn’t usually end with ‘and then they went to sleep ’or ‘it was just a dream’ although when children write their own stories, this often the way they end their stories. Why do they do this? Well you could argue that they just ran out of ideas and needed to finish their story somehow. Or you could see how the child is trying to bring the imagined world into line with reality.
Your child is doing this all the time. They don’t really believe in a world of dragons and unicorns. They suspend disbelief for the length of the story, the length of being 8 years old, the length of the time that you want them to believe. if you told your son that dragons don’t really exist, he would not be surprised or shocked and may even sneer at you for you even wanting to consider it! Personality differences can dictate this- highly imaginative children invest more heavily in the magical world and there is nothing wrong with this lasting for as long as they want. Other children, who may feel that there could be more magic in their lives, will invest to bring comfort. Some children are just not lit up by this sort of stuff and get their heroics in real life stories. And that’s the point. Its all about heroes and villains and goodness characters and these archetypes populate our minds both as children and adults.
We, as parents, have introduced specific characters and rituals that allow this drama to be played out but we take out the fear element- the Easter Bunny doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, the Tooth Fairy just brings gifts to celebrate a time of growing up and you can always rely on Santa, even if he needs you to be good first! Whoever heard of Santa not coming? That’s the point- that you haven’t got a chimney is irrelevant. In our minds, we just delete these little problems and, if not, parents are on hand for explanations and the embroidering of more tales to distract- food for the reindeers, the Christmas Elf and so on.
What we are doing is sustaining the child’s belief in magical and generous beings which reinforce life lessons:
- The sprit of love is alive in everyone’s hearts and results in giving- and that’s what the ‘story of Santa’ is reminding us. Santa has to have helpers ergo we have to help too so as to keep the spirit of giving alive.
- Growing up is magical; we don’t see the evidence daily but the Tooth Fairy gives us the opportunity to stop and realise.
- After Winter comes the Spring; after sadness, new beginnings are possible. The Easter Bunny is all about rejuvenation and renewal- (and chocolate!).
- By entering the child’s world of magic, you are telling them that all is possible and that magic can exist in a more realistic way too.
Its all about the magic of love and the spirit of giving. And that wondrous moment when we put all the rational details aside and believe in possibility. It’s all about hope.
- Be careful- avoid answering the question directly as many children check this out but don’t yet want to know the reality. So, if your child wants to know if these magical characters are real, reply with ‘what do you think? Then listen to the answer followed by ‘well you decide if that’s what you want to think right now’.
- Deal with the all questions according to the way your family operates- every family has its own traditions.
- Phase out Santa by having some gifts from Santa and some from named family members. Santa’s stockings can be kept into adulthood and are a great transition strategy.
- Use an older child’s knowing to nurture younger children by joining in their not-knowing. Keeping the secret for them will help the older child to understand why you ‘lied’ to them.
- Do not let your scepticism and cynicism seep out by saying that what your child is doing is immature and unrealistic.
- Get over the money problem of differences in the amount given to your child’s friends for their tooth by saying that some families make a big deal about some events and less about others- but it all works out the same in the end. Treat is as an aside not a big deal and avoid even more complicated storying about the tooth fairy as it will come back to haunt you! If the child persists ask them what kind of gift from the Tooth Fairy would best mark them growing up. This will refocus and create new options for you both.