Care and Feeding

I’m Worried My 4-Year-Old Is About to Discover I’m a Big Liar

I’ve really backed myself into a corner on this one.

A young girl looks annoyed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by megaflopp/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter is 4-years-old and is beginning to ask logical questions about Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and other made-up characters. For example, we were recently reading a book about colorful little forest fairies and she asked if fairies are in “real life.” I said no. Her follow up question was “Is the tooth fairy real?” I felt silly and my answer was illogical, but I said yes. A few weeks later, we were at a birthday party with a visit from the character Elsa. She asked if Elsa was real and I said yes. That week we watched the movie Frozen and she asked if the movie was real. I felt silly and caught in a lie so I said yes. My question is: How do I play along with these fun traditions of childhood but also teach the realities of life? Unicorns and mermaids don’t exist, and we won’t ever be able to find them in real life, but Santa is? I’m doing a terrible job at navigating this, and I feel like a liar. Meanwhile, I am proud to raise a daughter who is logical, thoughtful, and asks good questions. Where is the line? I don’t remember how I myself figured out these differences as a child, but I do remember believing in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.

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— Where Is the Line?

Dear Where Is the Line,

When it comes to childhood myths like Santa, the line is generally where parents draw it. Some choose to make these characters “real,” others never let their children believe. What is less common, however, is making movies like Frozen “real,” and you’ve put yourself in a sticky situation by doing that. Are we telling lies to our children when we say the Tooth Fairy is real? Yes. Are we asking them to believe in something that contradicts much of what we teach them about reality? Yes. But there’s no great harm in it. These imaginary characters, and the gifts that they “bring” our kids are a sweet part of childhood, a bit of innocent fun that lasts for a few brief years. Your logical, thoughtful, and probing daughter will eventually figure out for herself that they aren’t real; this usually seems to happen around age 8 or 9.
In the meantime, let her enjoy the magic!

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As far as Elsa goes, I think you should confess to your daughter that Frozen isn’t real and that you only said that because you didn’t want to disappoint her. I get that logically, this doesn’t make sense. Why pretend about the Easter Bunny but be honest about mermaids? Because the two mythological creatures are simply different; one has become a part of our culture and our traditions, while the other is relegated to storybooks and movies. Your little one is only 4. She’s got plenty of time to see the world for what it truly is. Allow her a little fantasy while she’s still young enough to enjoy it.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter has a very crazy teacher this year. He posts multiple complicated assignments every day and even though it’s supposed to be classwork, she rarely is able to finish it all and ends up doing lots of work on the weekend. His work is unreasonable, especially because he frequently changes the directions for a portion of the assignment in the middle of class. He’s really stressing her out. I’ve sent him numerous emails ranging from polite to passive aggressive, but his response to each one is “have her talk to me in class.” My child deserves better!

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— Troublesome Teacher

Dear Troublesome Teacher,

I am sorry you and your daughter are dealing with a tough teacher this year. Challenging teachers provide an opportunity to have a difficult but important conversation with our kids about the fallibility of authority figures; it’s easy for children to assume that because someone is a teacher, that they are capable and competent, and that any challenge they have in the class must be due to their own inadequacy. It’s critical that you talk to your daughter about exactly what this teacher is doing wrong and why it is presenting problems for her. This isn’t about villainizing the teacher so much as it is affirming for your daughter that she isn’t falling short because she’s having a hard time with this particular instructor’s assignments.

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After that, I think you should request an in-person meeting with the teacher. I don’t necessarily expect much to come from this, considering that he has been less than amenable when it comes to your written inquiries. However, before you take the next step—which is going over his head—you should have at least had a conversation with him and given him an opportunity to respond to your concerns face-to-face. In an ideal world, this chat would inspire the teacher to refresh his approach to classwork, which would be great. In the more likely outcome, in which nothing changes after this dialogue, you should then escalate your concerns to the school’s administration.

Be sure to keep detailed records of what the teacher is doing. Have your daughter write down examples of him changing the nature of an assignment midway through explaining it and other ways in which he is creating an unreasonable learning environment for his class.
Consider speaking to other parents of students in his course and organizing to speak with the principal as a group. This is likely to be a difficult fight. Schools often side with bad teachers and continue to give them a platform to underserve our children; however, nothing can be changed if the problem remains quiet. It’s important that you speak up and out about what’s going on in this class. Hopefully, school leadership will listen and take your concerns seriously. Wishing you and your daughter all the best.

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Catch Up on Care and Feeding

· If you missed Thursday’s column, read it here.
· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old grandson is a bright, healthy boy, but he is, lately, exhibiting attention issues in school, is behind in reading, and is having a difficult time focusing. He does not eat well, and this has been going on for many years. He rarely eats a vegetable, maybe a small carrot now and then. Very little protein. Many times, he just eats French fries. His mother, my daughter, is concerned about this, but has not been able to change his eating habits. He is extremely thin, and I’m afraid for his long-term health and growth. How can we change this behavior?

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— Worried Grandfather

Dear Worried Grandfather,

It sounds like you need to have a serious conversation with your daughter about your concerns, as she is the one who needs to step up and take some action. Let her know that you are worried about your grandson and the challenges he’s having at school, and that you are concerned that his diet is at the heart of the problem. Encourage her to take him to the pediatrician—you can go with them—to discuss his eating habits and his problems with focusing, and to look to the doctor to offer suggestions for dietary changes, as well as any other interventions that may be necessary to get him on track. Additionally, talk to her about how important it is that she ensures that he is eating a healthy diet. Let her know that he is currently not taking in the nutrients he needs to grow healthy and strong, and that his difficulties make that painfully obvious.

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I’m not sure if you live with your daughter and her son, or how frequently you see them, but make yourself available to be as helpful and supportive as you can. Perhaps you can help with cooking healthier foods, and with talking to your grandson about what he eats.
He, too, should be made aware that his diet is not working and that it is making certain things more difficult for him than they have to be. Talk about the connection between eating vegetables and growing strong, about how food gives us the energy we need to jump and play and learn. Work to identify foods that he enjoys, or at the very least, can tolerate. Make sure your daughter takes all this very seriously, because the stakes are high and something has got to give. Good luck to you as you step up and take this on.

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Want Advice From Care and Feeding?

Submit your questions about parenting and family life here. It’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

My significant other and I have been together for 12 years and have two young children. Holidays have always been a stressful time for me as I am a people pleaser. Last year, because of COVID, I was able to have the most enjoyable time with my little family with no added stress. My father passed away in 2019, and my mom is alone. My sisters will be with their in-laws for the holiday, so my mom will be coming to my house to spend the day with us. One of my sisters decided to come for dessert so she and her family will see my mom as well. The problem is, 2.5 years ago, my significant other and my sister got into an argument (alcohol involved) where my sister was very disrespectful towards him, and he absolutely does not want to spend time with her at all, especially on a holiday. He says I am disloyal by having her here at my house, and he refuses to stay and will leave and do his own thing after dinner. He said this was a poor decision I made to have her here and I ruined Thanksgiving. I am frustrated, upset, and don’t know where to go from here. I honestly feel like he is being selfish and childish.

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— Caught in the Middle

Dear Caught in the Middle,

What has transpired since the argument between your husband and your sister? It sounds like there was never any apology or reconciliation. By your own account, your sister disrespected your husband. While it would be unreasonable for him to expect that you would no longer have a relationship with her, it sounds like she really offended him and nothing has been done to address the issue since then. Is your sister willing to apologize? Do you think she should? If so, you should encourage her to do so. If you don’t think she will, then perhaps it is best that your husband leaves during her visit. Your mother should be able to spend time with both her family and yours for the holiday, but if your sister’s presence makes your husband that uncomfortable, then it may not be a good idea for them to see one another until the beef between them has been resolved. I know this is less than ideal and you’d probably prefer to have all your loved ones together (well, a few of them) for this occasion, but giving your husband a break for a few hours could prevent a repeat of what happened last time.

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Just think: If someone from his family had disrespected you without apologizing (again, I’m assuming), you may feel some kinda way about him wanting to host them in your home. It’s in your best interest to try and get these two to make peace. But if that can’t happen before the holidays, then it may be cause for celebrating separately—at least for a few hours. If your mother wasn’t coming, I’d say that you should ask your sister to apologize as a condition of coming to your home; however, considering what your mom has been through in recent years, I think it’s more important that she gets to see two of her daughters for the holiday. Hopefully, your husband can understand how important that is to her—and to you—and he can accept your decision to host your sister, even if he still feels more comfortable leaving before she comes. Wishing you all the best for a low-stress holiday, one way or the other.

Jamilah

For More Parenting Coverage, Listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

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