This may be an unpopular opinion for a parent, but I'm going to say it: I am not a fan of the Tooth Fairy. Yeah, I'm sorry.
But it seems to me that if we are determined to give our kids a strong grounding in science, technology, math, and whatever the hell the “E” in STEM stands for; to serve as their go-to source for guidance on their most difficult and challenging questions; and to teach them to lock their doors and windows at night—well, then maybe we should not be telling our kids that if they put their teeth under their pillow, a winged creature will slip into their room and leave them five bucks.
Let me explain.
It’s not because I’m cheap. While I do think that paying kids for losing their teeth is a little ridiculous, I was also not above offering material rewards for pees in the potty back in the day, so I recognize I have lost the moral high ground here. And it’s not because I want to deny kids the magic of childhood. If that’s what this were about, I would not have spent three hours waiting in line at Magic Kingdom among approximately 40 billion sniveling youngsters so my daughter could spend a nanosecond being greeted by the Disney princesses.
And it’s certainly not because I lack the creative skills necessary to spin a convincing tale—just ask my middle school P.E. teacher about the crippling vertigo that forced me to miss an entire unit of instruction when I was in eighth grade. (Sorry, Coach Fred!)
No, I’m not a fan of the Tooth Fairy mostly because I don’t like lying to kids. And, at heart, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you teach your kid to believe in the Tooth Fairy.
When you tell your kid that there's a Tooth Fairy, you are telling her something that you know is not true. And when she points out the odd or inconsistent aspects of your lie (“How will the Tooth Fairy find me at Grandma’s?” “But I accidentally threw away my tooth before I could put it under my pillow!”), you’ll probably tell her even bigger lies (“The Tooth Fairy always knows where you are!” “Of course the Tooth Fairy will still bring you a prize, because, um, she knows you didn’t mean to throw it away, and, um, she really wants you to be happy”).
And when she begins to suspect your story is not true, you may pile on more ludicrous, even threatening lies (“The Tooth Fairy doesn’t visit children who don’t believe in her!”) in order to convince your kid of something that you already know is totally and completely false.
This is a lousy thing to do. Why?
1. It sets your kid up to look like a fool.
At some point, your kid is going to figure out that there is no Tooth Fairy. And even if she’s old enough not to cry about it, or easygoing enough not to get mad about it (good luck with that), she is still going to realize she’s been duped.
She’s going to feel gullible. She’s going to feel stupid. And, sorry, but it’s going to be your fault.
2. Saying that these gifts are from some pretend creature takes away from your relationship.
Why not say, “I’m so excited you lost a tooth! Let’s get some ice cream together to celebrate” instead? Or, if you like the idea of putting a present under her pillow, do the Tooth Fairy’s job but don’t give away the credit. Your kid will have the thrill of waking up to a treat, and you’ll have the thrill of getting the “thank you.”
3. It teaches your kid not to trust you.
I know this sounds dramatic. But you are, after all, flat-out lying to her about the Tooth Fairy—so you can hardly blame her for wondering if you’re also lying about, say, the importance of vegetables or the existence of God, if that's important to you. And if you double down on the lie when she voices uncertainty, you’re also teaching her to doubt her own instincts about what is worthy of her belief and what should be questioned.
Look, I know that you love the idea of telling your kid about the Tooth Fairy, of watching her face light up and her eyes glow as she contemplates this new source of excitement and joy. I know that it would be so sweet to hear her thrilled, excited voice proclaiming that the Tooth Fairy brought her a prize during the night, especially if she makes the proclamation at a decent hour and not at 5:20 a.m. And—most of all—I know that you think the Tooth Fairy will bring magic and light and happiness to your kid’s life.
But here’s the thing: You don’t need to lie to your kid in order to bring magic and light and happiness to her life. This world is already full of magic and light and happiness. There are flowers and dogs and sunsets, bugs and rain and magnets, cake and forests and beaches, and so much other great stuff.
So, sure, celebrate your kid’s lost tooth. But don’t sacrifice your own authenticity in the process, OK? Your kid doesn’t need a pretend fairy to introduce her to the beauty and wonder and mystery this world holds. Mostly, she just needs you.