Is the Toothfairy and Easter Bunny Real?

We’re going to talk about creating magic for our children without misleading them.

This topic always comes up around holidays that have mascots like Christmas and Easter, but it also comes up a lot around the Tooth Fairy and other “magical” characters that are facilitated by Mom and Dad and even with things like Super Heroes or Princesses or Pokemon… these mythical creatures.

Where’s the line?

How can we allow our children to experience the magic and their imagination while still keeping their feet firmly planted on the ground?

Let’s get the big question out of the way first:

There is absolutely no evidence that allowing your children to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Spiderman, Batman, or Princess Elsa is in any way shape, or form damaging to them.

Now, I know a few early childhood theorists have advocated against allowing children to engage in fantasy- Plato, Rousseau, Montessori among others.

The argument being that children under the age of 6 are “incapable” of understanding reality vs fantasy and therefore exposing them to fantasy sets them up for unrealistic expectations and possibly even danger.

One thing that *should* stick out to you is that all of these theorists are old…. like over 200 years old.

We have research now that shows that not only is fantasy not damaging, but it has a lot of developmental benefits.

Remember these were theorists,, not scientists.

They had an idea, and they had evidence to support their idea, but the research didn’t back their theory up in the long run.

If you think back to 200+ years ago, that was a very different social context. Fantasy, or unrealistic stories, were often used to control people or to teach a lesson.

Have you ever cracked an old copy of Anderson’s Fairy Tales or Aesop’s Fables or Grimm’s Fairy Tales?

I happen to have a very old copy of Grimm’s, given to me by my great uncle. They’re horrific. They’re full of blood and gore and maiming and people doing horrible things to get what they want…the purpose of these stories were to scare people, mainly children, into compliance.

It was fear-mongering.

When you look at the media available at the time, it makes sense that all these old theorists.

Let’s not control children through fear?

Because yes, a toddler doesn’t have the ability to discern that when a story says there’s a wolf in the woods that will eat you if you stray off the path that it’s trying to teach you not to talk to strangers and follow directions.

They don’t have that ability to perspective-take.

It is not the same as the style of children’s media we have now that’s sole purpose is to plant ideas for children to explore and practice.

Paw Patrol is arguably the most persistent franchise in a long time. Others have come and gone, but Paw Patrol is just as big now as it was when my 8-year-old was a toddler.

Grab the scripts for crazy-making behaviour and know exactly what to say next time your toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener isn't listening.

What does Paw Patrol focus on?

Teamwork and positive decision-making, solving problems, heroism, bravery, and not in a dangerous way.

It depicts the things that can go wrong, it walks through decision-making processes. I was never a big fan of paw patrol, but not because of the content, just because it was everywhere and the consumerism bothered me.

The show itself, however, is the complete antithesis of the original version of Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. Apples and oranges.

The current research shows that engaging in fantasy helps children to process big emotions, it helps them to practice for real-world situations, it helps them develop a Theory of Mind.

Theory of mind is the ability to understand that everybody is thinking different thoughts, it helps them learn to perspective-take, it helps them learn social skills and conflict resolution skills, it supports joint attention and referencing, it helps them to develop their creativity and ability to think outside the box, it builds emotional intelligence….I could go on and on.

By the time Einstein was on the scene and I wouldn’t call him a childhood theorist, but he was a damn smart scientist and it’s widely accepted that he told multiple mothers who asked him how to prepare their children to become scientists to “read them fairy tales.” The first reports of him giving this advice are from 1958.

Children are actually extremely good at context.

They are very aware of when something is in their imagination, and when it’s tangible and real and that’s supported by multiple studies in various aspects of child development.

When we look at the research highlighted in We Don’t Play With Guns Here, it’s noted multiple times that adults treat fantasy imaginary play as though it had real-world consequences. That was what was distressing and confusing to the children, not the fantasy itself.

The fantasy itself gave children the safety of the imagination to test-drive ideas and process information that wouldn’t be easy to experience in reality.

I’m pretty convinced that fantasy is in fact a very good thing for children.

However, a lot of parents have difficulty with the “lying” aspect of things like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter bunny.

Yses, these can be more confusing than their self-initiated play because the support for their existence is so universal.

Santa is at the mall, his face is on freaking everything. Adults band together to make gifts appear. Adults band together to make money appear under your pillow and set the expectation for that.

When my youngest lost his first tooth I was completely unprepared for it because he hadn’t told me or his Dad he had a loose tooth, and my older son hadn’t started losing teeth till he was almost 7. When he came home from kindergarten clutching a little treasure chest with a tooth in it, I was shocked.

Sure enough, the teacher had gotten all excited about him getting a tooth fairy visit and the school had these little tiny plastic treasure chests with a fairy imprinted on the lid that he got to take home with his tooth inside, I guess kids lose teeth at school fairly frequently.

As long as we treat it like a game everybody is playing, most typical children get that this is a hoax the adults are all in on. While they might not get it at 3, by time they’re 8 and they are perspective-taking and have developed theory of mind and have experienced that Santa doesn’t manifest the same for everyone…they know it’s a game we’re all playing.

My advice: treat it like a game we’re all playing. Don’t treat it like it’s reality.

You can still create that magic and explore it and experience it, without having to treat it like it’s real.

If you slip up and forget to put the coin under their pillow, you don’t have to go to great lengths to justify it and “keep the magic alive.”

Whoops, guess the tooth fairy fell asleep on the job last night.

Hopefully, she’ll come to get it tonight. *shrug* …which is exactly what children do when they’re playing pretend!

They roll with the punches. They improvise.

The goal isn’t to convince our children that Santa or any of these other characters are real…it’s to play the game with them.

If your child does get upset about these characters, then you can empathize with that.

You really wish that there was a big bunny who pooped chocolate.

You really wish what Paw Patrol was real and you could call them for help. That would be so neat!

You can display empathy without ruining it, and you can play the game without implying that it’s reality.

What do you think?

I know every family navigates this differently, but if you’ve had concerns about this I hope it gave you some ideas and a bit of perspective on how you can involve fantasy while still teaching your children to discern reality…

And why that’s important!

If you’re struggling with how to apply this to your own family, I encourage you to come and join us in the Parenting Posse and we’d love to talk it out with you.

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About Allana

Hi, I’m Allana. I teach parents of toddlers and preschoolers why their children are misbehaving and what to do about it without yelling, shaming, or using time-outs. When not teaching parents about behaviour you can generally find me chasing around my two boys, reading cheesy romance novels, or hanging out with my own parents.

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