We got an Elf on the Shelf when my collie was a puppy. He proceeded to snatch the Elf on the Shelf from the counter and tear up his Elf uniform. I’m pretty sure Santa would frown upon that. Since then, our Elf on the Shelf can be found in the kitchen hanging with a cup of hot chocolate for the month of December. For a lot of families, Elf on the Shelf has a much bigger role than a doggie chew toy or Christmas decor.
Elf on the Shelf can be such a fun part of the holidays for the whole family! Lots of kids tell me that they love seeing what the Elf is up to each day.
Let's get right to it: Elf on the Shelf is for fun, not punishing kids or trying to change behavior.
It can get messy when the Elf on the Shelf is a spy for Santa to identify the “good kids.” This is actually the original idea behind Elf on the Shelf - he watches children’s behaviors and reports back to Santa about who is good and who is bad. Santa only comes if you’re on the good list. YIKES. That's a lot of pressure for kids. And what does it mean to be good, anyway?
Most adults are talking about “good behavior” here, but it’s just so complex that it gets mixed up. There are no good or bad emotions, emotions just are, but there are certainly behaviors that need limits. Often, though, feelings and behaviors get mixed up and that can send a message to kids that their feelings are “bad”, or worse yet, that they themselves “are bad.” This can be especially true if the Elf is a detective for all things good and bad.
Behaviors are what we do, not who we are. Your kids are good, even if some of their behavior is questionable. And, let’s be honest here, Santa is coming either way.
Here’s what can happen when your Elf is on the lookout for bad behavior:
The Elf identifies all sorts of problematic behavior. Santa still comes. Children learn that those behavioral threats don’t mean much. And the “bad” behavior doesn’t change.
Your child is worried about being labeled as good or bad and Santa not coming and that pressure increases bad behavior. And the “bad” behavior doesn’t change.
Your child internalizes that they are bad. And the “bad” behavior doesn’t change.
The Elf helps you in tricky moments when your child isn’t listening, but you miss the opportunity to make lasting behavior change and teach skills and then what happens on December 26th? The “bad” behavior doesn’t change.
So, what can we do differently to have fun with Elf on the Shelf? Well, first, let’s remember that Elf on the Shelf’s job isn’t to change behavior, but just to have fun and bring joy during the holiday.
Maybe your Elf on the Shelf does extra silly things when he notices kind or helpful behavior, or maybe he just can’t get enough when kids practice coping skills. He can even leave a special note of recognition.
Maybe your Elf on the Shelf leaves kindness ideas a few times in December (e.g., hold the door for a stranger today, help someone clean up a mess you didn't make today).
Or, maybe the Elf on the Shelf just comes and creates some holiday magic, no strings attached.
Have fun with your Elf on the shelf! That’s what it should be all about.
p.s., if you need a couple of ideas, here are some of my favorites that are easy and inexpensive:
Elf taking a toy for a walk (use a string or pipe cleaner as the leash)
Elf rock climbing up the fireplace (use small bows as the steps)
Elf sledding down a railing (use a piece of cardboard as a sled)
Elf making snow angels in powdered sugar
Elf having a spa day in a bowl of mini marshmallows
Elf drinking syrup (stick a straw in the syrup)
Elf rolling down the stairs in a roll of toilet paper
Elf in quarantine (stick that Elf in a glass jar)