Recently, a colleague shared the exorbitant rate that her children were getting for losing a tooth. My jaw dropped.

“Five dollars for a baby tooth?” I sputtered. At that rate, each kid would be earning 100 dollars just for having their teeth fall out naturally. How would they get rewarded for something that took no effort?

While I believe in rewarding kids, I’m uncomfortable with this runaway train. The intensity of positive reinforcement needs to align with the importance, difficulty, and frequency of the behavior that you want to occur. From this vantage on point, there isn’t a behavior that I’m trying to promote that requires $5 worth of positive reinforcement when my kids lose their teeth.

Before you start scolding me for killing the tooth fairy, she still visits my house on a regular basis, just with a lower price point. We did some thinking about what we wanted to encourage when the tooth fairy visits and came up with the following:

  • A sense of joy – we don’t want them to think of this natural process as painful or dreadful
  • Good oral hygiene – we think the tooth fairy would agree that taking care of the rest of our teeth is important
  • Gratitude – we take any opportunity to help our kids learn to say thank you

With this in mind, we gave our oldest these instructions when her first tooth fell out. She needed to write a letter to the tooth fairy (another skill we want to encourage) explaining what happened and thanking her for visiting us. This was left on her nightstand along with the tooth.

Later that night (don’t tell our kids about this part, we crept into her room, took the note and tooth, and left the following:

  • Chocolate coins (couldn’t escape the money theme entirely)
  • A funky new toothbrush
  • A note from the tooth fairy

We also often leave something fun or interesting like a book or a small toy, often something that was already in the house. When our oldest had to have a tooth pulled, we left something a little larger. These things might be something that the child wants or it could be something that the child needs.

We might end up spending that five dollars per tooth, but the money spent goes a whole lot further because we’re acting on our values and not blindly following a custom. Mission accomplished without setting crazy expectations and building on the things that we think are important when raising our kids.