What the Tooth Fairy Taught a Mom

Last Updated Jun 9, 2011 2:14 PM EDT

Last week my daughter lost her first tooth. She could hardly contain her excitement as she eagerly waited to see what the Tooth Fairy would bring her. I seized upon this milestone as one of those precious teachable moments that I didn't want to squander. I planned to focus the lesson around budgeting. (She would get to select a toy that costs no more than what she found under her pillow.) But it turns out that there was a far more important lecture I should have given her.

My daughter started hearing about the Tooth Fairy long before she lost her first milk tooth. We dutifully read books on the subject at bedtime. And some of her older friends had already received midnight visits from this fair creature. Still, exactly what my daughter would receive for a tooth remained a mystery to her.

I decided that the Tooth Fairy would leave $5 and a small present (a Fancy Nancy book). I hadn't given much thought to what the going rate is for other five-year-olds in New York City. Instead, I naively figured it was okay to be a bit generous since I don't give in to whining and buy my kids toys unless it's a special occasion. Also, since my daughter's birthday is in January, she hasn't gotten anything new in a long time.

Wow, did I make a big mistake. After the Tooth Fairy arrived, my daughter went to school and proudly told everyone what she found under her pillow. It turns out that her Tooth Fairy has deeper pockets than her friends' fairies. So much so that I received quite a few looks from teachers at pick up time. I can only imagine that my little one's bragging created some tension in the classroom and made some of the other children feel badly. I wanted to explain myself, but the damage was already done.

In retrospect, I don't regret giving my child a measly $5. But I do lament not teaching her these money manners:

  • It's not polite to talk about money. You can tell your friends the Tooth Fairy visited, but don't share how many coins or dollar bills you received.
  • Don't brag about the gifts you receive. This rule applies to all occasions and even if the present is from the Tooth Fairy, Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. If you do boast, you will likely hurt someone's feelings -- and maybe cause jealousy -- and that's a not a nice thing to do.
  • Families spend and save their money in different ways based upon their own values. We are teaching you our values and they are probably different than your friends' parents' values. And that's okay. Your Tooth Fairy's values match your family's.
Fortunately for me, I didn't lose my only opportunity to teach my daughter some financial etiquette. Her second baby tooth is starting to wiggle, so I figure I have another two weeks to perfect my manners speech.

What did you learn from the Tooth Fairy?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Loose image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.
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