Growing up Jewish, I had the tooth fairy but not Santa Claus.

A Jewish American of Italian and Russian descent, I grew up with Hanukkah but not Christmas, pasta but not pork. My heritage singled me out among my classmates who, to a one, were white Christians. The times I felt this ostracization most were at holidays. Other kids got stockings full of gifts and visits from Santa. Where was my sister’s and my Christmas lights? Or our Christmas tree topped with a star?

The year I turned eleven, my Catholic grandparents decided to give us a Christmas. It was the only year of my childhood that Santa paid me a visit, and while I was probably too old by that time to still be “believing,” it remains one of the most magical memories of my adolescence—right up there with Halloween and the tooth fairy, two non-religious traditions that my Jewish father was much happier to bring into the home.

All that to say, I was twelve before I questioned whether these magical beings—Santa, witches, the tooth fairy—were real. That’s a full two to five years later than the average kid starts to question their reality in earnest. Because I was already so “old,” acceptance came gradually for me and was relatively non-earth-shattering. But what if your child starts to ask earlier, between the average ages of seven and ten? How can you talk to your kids about the tooth fairy?

Wait to broach the topic until your kids bring it up.

You don’t have to end the charade before your kids are ready. When they’re ready, they’ll ask. And then, depending on how old they are at the time they ask, you may want to address their questions in different ways.

If the child is younger, I might say something like, “If what you’re asking is, “Is the tooth fairy a person with matter,” then no—she isn’t flesh and blood.”

Later, I might elaborate with, “She’s as real as your imagination. I made her up, yes, but you gave her life.”

The tooth fairy is as real as your imagination.

Be prepared for anything: Every child handles the truth differently.

Some kids, upon learning the tooth fairy is make-believe, will get upset. They might cry or feel sad at the loss of a figure they loved. Other kids may become confrontational or put up a wall: “I knew she wasn’t real,” they’ll say, acting as if they don’t care. Still other kids genuinely won’t care.

My daughters are super sweet and so sensitive that long after they “knew,” they continued to play along with the scheme, recognizing the tooth fairy was important to all of us, even if she was pretend. The topic came up again when I was writing my tooth-fairy-themed children’s book UNDER MY PILLOW, and I point-blank told my girls I was the tooth fairy. Even at thirteen, they acted as if I’d burst their bubbles, preferring to continue the ruse out of nostalgia.

There’s no wrong way for your child to react. Honor where they are in their journey.

Replace old traditions with new ones.

Santa or the Easter Bunny or the tooth fairy may visit your little ones for the first several years of their life. Once they “know,” however, it can be nice to replace these “old” traditions with new ones that honor your kids’ older and wiser perspectives.

If your kids wrote letters to the tooth fairy like mine did, have them keep writing letters, but maybe now as part of a pen pal program. If Santa used to bring them lots of gifts, they could instead help wrap gifts for Toys for Tots. You could assign them a “research project” on the origin of the tooth fairy or another magical being and turn their interest into something academic and/or centered on cultural appreciation.

What’s more vital than that your children continue to “believe” is that they continue to find wonder and joy in the world.

What’s more vital than that your children continue to “believe” is that they continue to find wonder and joy in the world. Start them down that path early by purchasing my tooth-fairy-themed children’s book UNDER MY PILLOW.

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