Very few children emerge from middle childhood without figuring out the truth about the tooth fairy, but a definite age for this realization is difficult to determine because every child is different. Learning that the tooth fairy isn't real may be a major disappointment, but if your child asks you to tell him the truth, honesty is usually the best way to handle the situation.
Child Development and the Tooth Fairy Myth
According to the Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development, children start losing their primary or baby teeth around the age of 6. By this age, your child is aware of the unlikelihood of a fairy flying from house to house collecting teeth and handing out cash. He is also going to question what this fairy could possibly do with all of those teeth, although he may not pose the question aloud because many kids at this age enjoy finding a prize under their pillow and will play the game with you for a while.
When Questions Begin
According to Aha! Parenting, most kids start asking about the tooth fairy between the ages of 4 and 7. Every child is different, though, and your child may not ask until much later, or she may never buy into the myth at all. The reason children stop believing so soon after losing the first tooth varies. Around this age children lose a lot of teeth and experience the fantasy many times, and the logic is simply too hard to ignore. Sometimes Mom and Dad aren't as skilled as other parents at rummaging under their sleeping child's pillow to remove the tiny tooth and replace it with cash. In many cases, the hoax is revealed by older siblings or peers. The children that don't question the tooth fairy myth may enjoy the game you're playing with them and don't want to know the truth.
If Your Child Asks about the Tooth Fairy
Most school-age children don't have to wait long before another child reveals that the tooth fairy isn't real. Children of this age are eager to show how grown up they are and delight in telling their less mature classmates what's real and what's not. If your child comes home and asks you if the tooth fairy is real, Aha! Parenting recommends that you be honest. Your child needs to be able to trust you, even about harmless lies invented for their enjoyment, like the tooth fairy. While you may feel you're destroying a myth your child needs, knowing he can count on you to tell him the truth always is more important.
Dealing with Anger
While many children may take the unraveling of the tooth fairy myth in stride, some will be angry. According to the New York Times, most children feel older and more mature than their still-believing peers, but for those that are disappointed, the anger is not usually because you lied. It's because they want to believe the tooth fairy is real. Be honest no matter what, but allow your child to be angry and acknowledge her feelings. Share some stories about how much fun it was to see the delight on your child's face when she discovered the money under her pillow for the first time, or tell her about some close calls when she almost caught you. This helps to soften the blow. If your child has younger siblings, enlist her help when they lose their first teeth. It's also important to tell her that it is a parent's job to tell other children about the tooth fairy myth to prevent her from sharing the reality with all of her friends the next day.