The importance of teaching your children how to believe in magic
“Magic is important for kids,” says Dr. Faith Cohen, licensed psychologist. It’s not what you expect to hear from a child clinical psychologist with a specialty in trauma. She sees some dark stuff: sexual abuse, rape, and all kinds of addiction. Yet, she says, “This topic comes up in my practice with parents quite a bit.” I’m interviewing Dr. Cohen about magic—and specifically the question of is it okay to lie to your children about Santa Claus—and it isn’t lost on me that she is neither Christian nor the first person most people would ask about magic. Yet she is able to talk about magic as if it is part science and part spirit and that’s the way I experience it as a parent.
“There is this switch that happens around age seven to nine from magical thinking to concrete thinking and they start switching out of fantasy play and magical thinking,” explains Dr. Cohen. “It’s a loss of innocence.” And it’s during this developmental transition that kids start discovering things: like tooth fairies don’t exist or Santa Claus isn’t real.
Dr. Cohen tells a story of when her eldest son was this age and discovered the tooth fairy didn’t exist. It was in the morning and she was leaving for a yoga class when he asked: “Mommy is the tooth fairy you? You have to tell me!”
She asked “Do you really want to know?” and he assured her that he did. So, she said, “Yes.”
“He fell apart,” she says. “It felt like a really bad parenting moment.” She brought up this incident with her yoga instructor later. And, now she uses what he taught her with other parents. He said “The tooth fairy and Santa Claus, these are just beginning magic. They are just ways that parents help kids understand the really big magic of the Universe. It’s not that magic doesn’t exist, it’s that it is so big that parents need help to explain it to kids.”
She explained that it took a long time and a lot of discussion to help her son recover his sense of awe and willingness to believe in magic. She had to give him examples of the big magic of deja vu, the unconscious, collective conscious, and the way things come together. She told him stories about how she met his father, how his dad first came to the U.S., and about the way it feels to look into the sky and get a first glimpse of quantum physics. “Slowly, he came to grasp some bit of the bigger magic.”
There is a developmental shift that has to happen, she explains, but she managed to help him through a childish belief in magic to an appreciation of the magic of life. “It was beautiful,” she says. “He would spend hours picking up hermit crabs and putting them into the ocean and was mesmerized by jelly fish and how they move.”
“That is the stuff where spirit is derived.” She clarifies that this is “not religious, but the fabric of connection, the unspeakable essence and dynamic between living beings and creatures.” She asks, “If you didn’t have a since of wonder, magic, and awe.. how can you create? How could the Wright brothers have made the airplane, how would we have made a rocket ship that went to the moon, how would we advance in science.” She goes on to list art, music, and more. “What is magic?” she says. “It’s something that we don’t understand, that awes us; it’s fuel for the imagination.”
Kids are different and will meet milestones at different ages, but parents can play an integral role in helping their children develop a healthy relationship to magic that is appropriate for the different ages. She also says that older siblings can help too and that many older children enjoy the importance of the responsibility of keeping this information. She recommends language such as: “Your understanding of magic is bigger and more sophisticated and you get the honour of helping hold this surprise with [us] parents.” [She also slipped in a reminder that we never want to encourage children to keep secrets, but rather use language such as surprises which is information that is just held until it’s an appropriate time to let it out.]
“Magic,” Dr. Cohen repeats, “connects us with each other… it makes being human more human.”
Article by Manda Aufochs Gillespie aka The Green Mama. Get inspired regularly. Sign up for The Green Mama’s kick-ass newsletter.