Supporting belief in the tooth fairy

The tooth fairy

Our 6½-year-old daughter believes in the tooth fairy, despite the fact that I’ve casually mentioned to her that goblins, gnomes, witches, fairies, dwarves, dragons, etc. are all imaginary, mythical creatures. She completely understands all of this, but for some reason, the tooth fairy seems to fall into a separate category in her mind.

In fact, her classmates this year and in previous years have had discussions among themselves about the tooth fairy, and those of them with older siblings tend to be very firm about the tooth fairy’s non-existence… but our child continues to hold on to her belief the tooth fairy is real. Honestly, I don’t understand it.

My wife thinks this is a good thing; she wants our child to hold on to her sense of wonder for as long as possible, I suppose. Personally, I don’t much see the point in encouraging this belief, but neither will I be the one to deliberately dissuade her from it. In the long run, I reason, there’s no harm in it.


I am walking a very fine line between honesty and pluralistic open-mindedness when it comes to my daughter’s upbringing. Certainly, I am not going to lie to her (I have enough difficulty with not discouraging her from believing in the tooth fairy) about my skepticism.

She’s now old enough to be asking serious philosophical questions, but not yet quite mature enough to hear out people’s complete, nuanced answers. So, not too long ago, she asked me whether or not I believe in God, which is good, but she did not have the patience to hear out my response. I think she understands, based upon the little that I managed to explain, that I don’t believe in God in a traditional way.

On the other hand, whenever she spontaneously declares to me that she believes in the God of the Torah (5 Books of Moses) (which happens every so often), I tell her that I’m happy for her – because believing in God is comforting. Certainly, I don’t discourage her budding belief system.

Jewish education

She has really taken to the Jewish component of her school curriculum; often, she sings various prayers and blessings aloud at home, which she has learned at school. To a great extent, I find this gratifying… as a public school student in the USA, I learned those same prayers and blessings at a later age, and they were never part of my daily life, as they are of hers.

Her unusual school deliberately brings together Jewish kids who are religious (Orthodox) with Jewish kids who are non-religious (secular), and each group has a different morning activity. The “religious” kids have a morning prayer service, and the “non-religious” kids have various Jewish-themed learning activities (from what I gather).

Earlier in the school year, she casually described the two groups to me as those that believe in God and those that do not believe in God, which I immediately disabused her of by pointing out that many non-religious people do believe in God, while many religious people do not. She immediately accepted my point, and we haven’t revisited that particular conversation since. For me, this is an essential part of what her special school provides its students –

  • an appreciation that neither being “religious”, nor being “non-religious” is inherently better, nor more correct;
  • an understanding that there is a great deal of overlap between the two groups, both in terms of practices and in terms of beliefs;
  • a sense that the distinction between the two groups (which exists in Israeli society at large) is fairly arbitrary.

So, I feel comfortable with her fledgling religiosity and devotion to the Almighty in this specific context. Putting aside theology, I consider it invaluable for Jewish people to be intimately comfortable with their traditions. After all, our traditions make ours distinct from other cultures and belief systems. Sure, Judaism promotes being “good” and “moral”, but so does basically every other faith – that, in and of itself, is not distinctly “Jewish”.

Right now, she’s but a child; and she has many years ahead of her to figure out her beliefs regarding God and other theological axioms. I’m imagine she’ll probably find herself going back and forth in her beliefs in the years to come… and I’ll continue attempting to straddle the divide between my skepticism (non-belief?) and my intention to support as she grows into the person that she wants to become.

From my perspective, one of the most precious gifts that her school has already begun granting her is the skillset to navigate ancient Jewish rituals and texts (which too many Jews throughout the world don’t have), absent a religiously coercive approach that demands fealty to a Being who may not exist and a history that may not be entirely true.

54 thoughts on “Supporting belief in the tooth fairy”

  1. Reason and faith are always going to be in conversation if you let them both into your life. But absent attempts to bully a child into one way of looking at the world, there’s no way to control how they will see things in the end. Our children, hopefully, will never stop surprising us. (K)

  2. in sharing sources, I was not implying you needed me to introduce you to them – only joy of finds; as for mysticism as providing a calm in the storm of growing up into disbelief, I can quote the great 2oth century RC theologian Karl Rahner who said the future Christian will be a mystic – or not be. And he was one who practically philosophised away all religion. I love Ernesto Cardenal’s poetry as mystical – should be available in English, I’d think. 🙂

  3. David, I don’t mean to discourage you or anything – the discussion you have with your daughter is very very important. But also accept that when she grows up, she’ll develop her own belief system that may or may not match yours.
    The reason I say that is this – when my daughter was young, I, like you, had much philosophical and theological discussions with her. Now, in her late teens, she is leaning towards atheism. I am a theist but I don’t have a problem with her being an atheist (no, really – my husband is an atheist), but truth be told, I was surprised when she told me – because her dad and she never discussed atheism as much as she and I discussed god. I suspect its a bit of peer pressure too – it is considered “cool” to be an atheist. Still…

    1. an old friend of mine, philosopher and Carmelite, used to say: Ask them what g-o-d they don’t believe in, I may not believe in that/it/him/her either…

  4. This all sounds good. I mean, the most important thing is that she asks the questions and makes her own conclusions. If she asked *me* whether I believed in god, I’d try to turn it around. “But what do *you* think?” kind of thing. That it is her opinion that is important, not yours.

  5. have you thought about introducing her to accessible forms of mystical literature? might give her some modern grounding through the various phases …

      1. have looked up a couple of Jewish children’s book publishers and at least by title and cover they may be emphasising the mystical component of faith anyway – and it makes sense as it appeals to – you know children’s sense of wonder…

  6. Just as you are offering her the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of religious beliefs she will be exposed to other beliefs. The tooth fairy is a harmless childhood belief.

    By the way, I think it is amazing that you are giving her the strong background in Judaism that she deserves. I am happy that with your own skepticism, you let her come to her own beliefs. It is a lifelong gift not offered to all.

  7. I was open about my atheism with my girls but never said it was the right way. I also sent them to a reform temple and they became bat mitzvahs. One of my daughters is like me and the other has a strong faith in G-d. I find that kinda cool…

  8. when I was in what you call high school, around age 14,15 our physics teacher told us she had said to her much younger children they should feel free to believe in (all of the above) or stop. It was for them to decide… I think she meant the message also for us, and, come to think of it, perhaps even for me as I was a rebel in RE, driving the poor vicar teacher to tears on one occasion. I found that remark remarkable at the time and still do. It did not help going through those conflicts though, as I remember them.

      1. well, a bit like at 40 saying why can’t I be secular – I had to go through stages…, including arguing then with those elders who had what I now call a regressive religious mind…

  9. I think your wife is correct on this one. Let her believe in the tooth-fairy and in G-d. She will in time come to her own truth. It may turn out that she already has heard the truth and accepted it but wants to test her belief system with you!

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