My 5-year-old son Jack’s front teeth are getting wiggly. It’s a bit early for him to be losing his baby teeth, but they have held on since he tripped on a curb when he was 3.
The trauma had turned his glassy white chompers into a disturbing gray, but it hasn’t stopped him from smiling often.
When his baby teeth go, I hope he won’t get self-conscious and flash that weird, toothless Mona Lisa-smile that millennials (and wannabes) do.
When I was 7, my folks taught me to wrap a string around my loose tooth, attach the other end to a doorknob, then have someone pull the door shut. I remember the metallic taste of blood and how gross the process was, but the joy of getting paper bills (remember those two-, five- and 10-peso bills?) under my pillow the next day softened the blow. Cavity-free teeth earned more.
But Elaine Rose Glickman, author of “Your Kid’s a Brat and It’s All Your Fault: Nip the Attitude in the Bud—From Toddler to Tween,” thinks parents shouldn’t let their kids believe in the “Tooth Fairy.”
It sets your children up to look like a fool upon realizing they’ve been duped,” says Glickman. They’ll feel gullible and stupid. Saying that these gifts are from some pretend creature takes away from your relationship. It teaches your kid not to trust you.
Instead, Glickman recommends to celebrate losing a tooth by taking your child out for a treat. Or, if you insist on leaving money under a pillow, to truthfully say you gave the cash.
Glickman cautions about lying about the Tooth Fairy: “Your child could question if you’re also lying about, say, the importance of vegetables or the existence of God. 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.”
Team tooth fairy
Child psychologist and researcher Jean Piaget says that children cannot tell fantasy from reality until age 7 or 8.
“That is why they so easily believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I would say keep the imagination going as long as it lasts!” says psychotherapist and parent coach Patti Ashley.
But what if your child is older than that? Media psychiatrist and author Dr. Carole Lieberman says to keep the ritual going as it is comforting for children.
“Why? Because teeth falling out are unconsciously symbolic of death and, as such, is disturbing at any age. For example, when you dream about teeth falling out, you are worrying about death—yours or someone else’s. So, pretending that a Tooth Fairy is giving your child a gift is soothing at any age during this transition,” says Lieberman.
“Once your child says, ‘I don’t believe in Tooth Fairies anymore,’ just smile and leave something under his pillow, anyway,” Lieberman advises.
Bow Valdez, 35, believed in the Tooth Fairy when she was a child: “It was one of those things that added to our simple joys and excitement.”
For her, it’s okay that her kids Vinci, 15, Carlos, 8, and Rocio, 4, are believers.
“It’s something that adds excitement to losing a tooth. It may not be much to others, but I remember really shifting more of my attention to getting a ‘reward’ from the Tooth Fairy rather than the stress of losing a tooth,” she says.
When the topic of whether the Tooth Fairy is real or not comes up, she asks her kids if they still believe. “If they still do, I just say that she’ll be real as long as they believe. But if they don’t anymore, or doubt more, then I just say, ‘You figured it out! You’re a bigger kid now!’”
The going rate per tooth at their home? “Not big at all, P20-P50, whatever bill is available,” she says.
Is there anything she would do differently? “Nope! You’re a kid only once. Why take away the thrill and kill the excitement?” Valdez says.
Tooth of the matter
Glickman has many valid points, but so do those who are Team Tooth Fairy. I’m all for fostering imagination and wonder and curiosity, but at what expense?
I’m a big fan of fiction, and have introduced my kid to Pinoy halimaw, but I have always taught him that they are just make-believe.
My feelings for the Tooth Fairy are the same as for Santa Claus: I don’t see the point in introducing an idea that we might have to painfully undo in the future.
To this day, I have not confirmed or denied the existence of either Santa or the Tooth Fairy to my son because his thought process interests me. He talks about them, and I just continue to ask him questions.
Jack expects to get presents even if we’ve never placed gifts “from Santa” under our tree, and he has so far never questioned not getting presents from him.
As for the Tooth Fairy, we’ll probably put money under his pillow but let him figure out from who it really is.
As Glickman puts it, “You don’t need to lie to your kid in order to bring magic and light and happiness to her life. Sure, celebrate your kid’s lost tooth. But don’t sacrifice your own authenticity in the process. 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.” —CONTRIBUTED