Is the tooth fairy real? The best way to respond when your kids ask

Jan. 4, 2021

The tooth fairy: one of the most enchanting figures of modern American mythology. As a child grows and starts to lose teeth, this magical, gift-giving character can be one of the most fun and special fantasies to share. On the other hand, there's a very good chance that the child's same-aged friends might not share your family's imagination.

Here are six tips to keep in mind if and when a child comes home to you with questions about the tooth fairy's legitimacy. 

1. Consider a child's age

It can be difficult to determine an appropriate age to tell kids the truth about the tooth fairy. Children typically start to question whether the tooth fairy is real between the ages of 4 and 7. If a child is younger than 4, it might be wise to conceal the truth for a little while longer.

2. Be in tune with each individual child

Everybody has a different capacity for suspending disbelief in fictional characters — including kids. Gauge each child's aptitude for imagination, and let that help you decide whether or not to let them hear the truth about the tooth fairy.

"There are no strict guidelines on when to tell your child that the tooth fairy isn't real," says licensed psychologist Charlotte Tilson. "Take an individualized approach to responding to your child's questions about this topic. View these questions as opportunities for conversation. Through them, you can refine your understanding of your child, their peer group and their grasp of fantasy vs. reality."

3. Don't be afraid to prolong the magic

Believing in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, ghosts, leprechauns and other gift-giving characters is wonderful way for kids' imaginations to grow. Don't be pressured into having them grow up early. There's nothing wrong with wanting kids to believe in magic.

4. Communicate with other parents

Most of the time children are encouraged to doubt the tooth fairy's existence by their peers. Talk with other parents or caregivers about how they're discussing the tooth fairy with their children. If you want your own child to hold on to the magic, ask parents who are dispelling the truth to have their children keep that information to themselves.

And vice versa. If you want to share "the truth" with your kids, give other parents a heads up about your plans to prevent any dramatic interactions.

5. Keep sitters in the loop

Parents and caregivers should talk about how to handle these types of common questions from kids — what should the sitter say? Make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations, so the kids aren't hearing different things from different adults.

"Losing teeth is a very important rite of passage. It serves as a concrete way for children to see that they are growing and changing," according to child behavior expert and author Vanessa Kahlon. Parents should probably be the ones having the  tooth fairy conversation with kids.

For example, if children ask a babysitter or nanny about things like the tooth fairy, Santa or "the birds and the bees," they can respond with something like: "That sounds like a question for your parents." 

6. Give a tooth fairy history lesson

If the cat is out of the bag and your child is heartbroken, or even if you want to broaden an imaginative child's fascination with the tooth fairy, consider teaching them about the tale's legacy. Throughout history and all around the world, there have been many different incarnations of the tooth fairy. In countries such as Russia, New Zealand and Mexico, it's a rat or mouse who does the overnight money-for-teeth exchange.

Check out the movie "Tooth Fairy," a fun, cute PG flick about a hockey player forced to moonlight as the tooth fairy.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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