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Posted at 2:48 PM ET, 10/20/2009

Should teachers tell kids the truth about the Tooth Fairy?

By Valerie Strauss

This actually happened to my editor: It was Sunday morning and his 8-year-old daughter woke up fully expecting to find a gift from the Tooth Fairy under her pillow. But Craig and his wife had forgotten to place it there the night before.

Here's what he said he did: “I panicked, tried to slip a dollar bill into her bed and GOT CAUGHT. Then, of course, I desperately lied, and reasonably well, but suspicion remains...”

Afterward, Craig started wondering if that was the time to have come clean.

The Answer Sheet has an opinion, but decided that hers alone would not suffice because she is rather hard-headed about this issue.

The Sheet believes that if you don’t want your children to think that it is okay to lie every now and then, it is probably best not to tell fabrications that later become obvious, such as pretending that a fairy leaves money under the pillow in exchange for a tooth, that bunnies hop on by the house for Easter to drop off eggs, and well, yes, that Santa Claus is not really Uncle Harold in a red suit.

This way, teachers would not be put in the position of deciding whether to burst your child’s bubble. In the event a teacher is directly asked by a youngster, she should say nothing to perpetuate the myth, but--here’s where The Answer Sheet shows her soft side--she should not crush the child's spirit by hitting her over the head with the truth. At least not where anybody else can hear.

But recognizing that hers is a minority opinion in America, The Sheet sought the opinion of an actual expert on young children, and, not surprisingly, got a completely different opinion.

Jerlean Daniel, deputy executive director of the nonprofit Washington D.C.-based National Association for the Education of Young Children, said there is no harm whatsoever in parents telling children these imaginary characters exist and in continuing the myth for as long as it makes sense.

“I think folks overanalyze things,” she said. “So it is a myth. Children find out otherwise. Their lives are not destroyed by this. It is a harmless fantasy game that parents and families play, a piece of mythology that has weaved its way through our culture.”

And teachers, Daniel said, should never undermine a child’s parents.

“If part of the cultural milieu of the family is Easter bunnies, teachers leave that alone. That’s between the parent and child. And so at best a teacher might say, ‘Well, moms and dads are often right about things.’ ... It’s not the teacher’s job to destroy the mythology.”

The Sheet asked Daniel whether a teacher could go as far as saying that some people believe and some don’t.

“Yes, you could say, ‘Some believe and some don’t.’ That is often the way it comes up, Johnny comes up with Paul by the hand, and Paul has been telling Johnny the Easter bunny doesn’t exist and Johnny wants to know.”

What if a student asks a teacher if they personally believe it?

"The teacher has to figure out what to say. But I would stress, ‘Don’t undermine the parent,’” Daniel said.

That makes so much sense that The Answer Sheet wishes she had thought of it first.

What do you think? What would you do if you were caught like Craig trying to be the Tooth Fairy?

By Valerie Strauss  | October 20, 2009; 2:48 PM ET
Categories:  No Child Left Behind, Parents  | Tags:  Telling the Truth to Kids  
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I'm with your expert, sorry. Not fair to characterize myths as "lying to your kids."

And as an aside, if you insist on lumping all of this into the general category of "lying," well, then, who says I DON'T want my kid to learn that it's "okay to lie every now and then"? "Do these pants make my butt look fat?" springs to mind. As does, say, "thank you, Grandma, for the pretty [godawful] sweater." As with everything else, the key is learning the boundaries -- innocent social niceties, sure; lying to save your own skin or hurt someone, never.

But in any event, yeah, it's not the teacher's place to mess with it.

For us, I've done the "some believe, some don't" route. When DD asks me what I believe, I flip it back and ask her what she believes, because that's what counts. When she finally gets to the point of not being satisfied with that, I figure she's old enough to be done with it and tell her the truth.

That said, she found out about the tooth fairy last year from a friend (which I confirmed) -- and yet, for this latest tooth, she's still insisting that it go under her pillow tonight. :-)

Posted by: laura33 | October 20, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

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