Should kids know the truth about childhood myths?
Do your kids believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and other childhood myths? Maybe it's time you tell them the truth.
Growing up, my sister and I would read a lot of fairytales, so although we do not celebrate Christmas or Easter, it was still great fun for us to believe that jolly old Santa Claus would "come to town" to give presents to all the children; and we were excited to be invited to our friends' houses to hunt for chocolate eggs which were supposedly hidden around their garden by the Easter Bunny every March.
As magical as it was to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, it was a little confusing to us as to why they would always skip our house yet would pay a visit to our friends instead, and we wondered if it was because we did not behave well enough that year to deserve a special house-visit.
So what is about childhood myths that make children intrigued? And is it healthy for them to believe in something that their parents make up and insist that it is the truth during their early years of childhood?
Waiting for the Tooth Fairy
When I lost my first tooth, I recalled reading in a storybook that I should put the tooth under my pillow at night and then the next morning it would be replaced with a coin.
Some of my friends urged me to do it and told me about how they received a lovely little note from the Tooth Fairy herself, and were rewarded with some money which they used to buy some candy or stickers.
So I did just that and the next morning I excitedly checked under my pillow but was disappointed to see that my tooth was still there and there was no sign of a glittery note nor any coins at all.
But I didn't give up hope and just left my tooth there for about a week, only to wake up disappointed and confused every single morning.
I lamented to my mother about the Tooth Fairy's no show, but she had no clue what I was even talking about because she had never even heard about the Tooth Fairy or what exactly parents were supposed to secretly do for their kids when it came to all these childhood myths.
Finding out the truth
It didn't take long for me to eventually figure out the truth about the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, but it left me feeling disappointed and pretty foolish for believing in the first place.
Even though my parents never fed us with all these childhood myths, I read about such characters from storybooks, or saw their images as decorations during festive seasons, and heard about them from my friends in school, or watched them come to life in cartoons.
When my other friends finally learned the truth as well, they would come to school and ask one another in hushed tones whether we knew that such characters didn't really exist.
Those who were aware would solemnly nod their heads and then quickly shrug it off by saying they're too old for all that "baby stuff", and it seemed like the rite of passage every child would go through before the end of lower school (Primary Three).
My friends discovered that such childhood myths didn't exist by reading about it in a book somewhere, a few were told the truth by their older siblings, there were also those whose parents were the ones to reveal the well-kept secret, or it all just dawned on them one day as part of their own conceptual development.
Some of them felt quite embarrassed or betrayed and you could hear the hurt in their voices and see the bitterness on their faces as they told each other that they always had their suspicions in the first place, but wondered why their parents had to lie to them about it for so long.
Go to the next page to find out why it isn't a good idea to keep the truth from your children.
Why parents promote childhood myths
If parents know that their kids will eventually grow up and find out the truth about Santa Claus and his toy-making elves, or the generous Tooth Fairy, and the hard-working Easter Bunny, then why do they even churn out all these lies in the first place?
Some parents feel that by believing in Santa Claus for example, it would make them behave well and any naughtiness can be stopped immediately with the threat that the jolly old man in the red suit will consider skipping their house this Christmas and there won't be any presents under the tree for them this year.
Or that perhaps by giving a monetary reward for their child's tooth (supposedly from the Tooth Fairy) would somehow soothe them through this milestone in their lives and make it feel less scary.
Then there are those who just do it because of family traditions that they experienced as children themselves and they just want their own kids to enjoy the same magical experience.
Is it healthy for kids to believe in childhood myths?
Whatever parents' reasons are for perpetuating childhood myths, David Kyle Johnson, Ph.D., an associate professor of philosophy at King’s College in Pennsylvania (USA), strongly feels that parents should stop lying to their children about such things.
He explains that parents should treat such childhood myths just like how we treat all other stories — as a fictional story and that "To do otherwise would be to cruelly take advantage of the child's naïveté and possibly hinder his or her intellectual development."
Johnson also adds that children need to trust their parents, especially in their early years, so once they find out that all these childhood myths were all fabricated by their own mum and dad, it may make them distrust authority, and even question parental trustworthiness.
Hollywood celebrity Brad Pitt reveals that he's not into the whole Santa charade.
"I thought it was a huge act of betrayal when I was a kid. I didn't like that. When I found out the truth, I was like, 'Why? Why? Why would you lie to me? Why?'", he says.
So he now tells his children that some people believe in Santa, and some people believe it's their parents who do all the "magic", but he encourages them to just believe whatever they want.
How do you tell your kids the truth about childhood myths? Keep reading to find out.
How to tell your kids the truth about childhood myths
Dr. Matthew Lorber, a child psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, reminds parents that if your children start asking you whether those characters are real, then you'll need to decide whether your child really is ready to know the truth.
He says, "The best way to handle that is to ask the child if he or she still believes in Santa. If they do, it might be too soon to tell them."
Here are some ways you can break it to them gently once they do start to ask you:
Just be honest
According to some psychologists, children need to know that they can trust their parents to tell them the truth, even about childhood myths.
So when your kids start to ask if Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny are real, you should just tell them the truth.
Let them take the lead
Once your child starts to poke around for answers, just ask him what he really thinks and what his own theory is.
Allow him to talk through this process himself and come to his own conclusion.
Treat it as a rite of passage
Make it seem like your child has now reached the level of maturity to find out the truth about all these childhood myths and congratulate him for being old enough now to know the big secret.
Tell him that you knew he would eventually figure it out and just make it seem like it was a game where he was meant to uncover the real stories behind these fantasy characters.
Be prepared for negative reactions
Some kids who may have already started to have their doubts about the existence of such magical beings might feel relieved to have their perception of reality confirmed.
But there might be others who will feel quite angry at their parents for lying to them and betraying their trust, so just be prepared for tears.
However, if you still do not want to reveal the truth to your child, just remember that they will probably learn about it from their friends in school, or by accidentally reading about it in a book, or it just dawns on them after they realise that there are far too many holes in the story and questions which can't be answered for it to be true.
Do your kids know the truth about Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Should children be allowed to believe in all of these childhood myths? Share your thoughts with us by commenting below.