Ok, I’ll admit it.
I was tempted by the Elf on the Shelf.
My kids were tiny and I knew they would delight in finding a silly elf doing funny things each morning. I imagined giggling with my husband as we posed the elf having a spa day in a mug of marshmallows or taking a cruise in a Barbie car.
Still, something felt weird about it. Dishonest? Or manipulative, maybe?
But it was cute!
Everyone had one!
How could I let my kids miss out on these magical childhood memories?
I consulted other elf moms and one said, “Well, all I can tell you is that my kids started behaving waaay better once that elf showed up.”
Then, another said her child went to bed the first night and timidly asked,
“What do you think he’ll tell Santa? Do you think I was good enough today?”
Was I good enough?
Am I enough?
That was it. I couldn’t do it. There would be no elves on our shelves.
I couldn’t let my children spend the holiday season focused on themselves, examining their words and actions in an attempt to “earn” gifts that are actually freely given out of love. I couldn’t let them think for a second that they weren’t loved for exactly who they are, even when they mess up.
Ultimately, I had to decide what I wanted to teach my kids:
- Do you do what’s right because someone is watching? Or is your character really in how you act when no one is watching?
- Does the magic of this life come from Pinterest and elaborate late-night schemes? Or can they discover that there is magic all around us, like gazing at the full moon or the wonder of the first snowfall?
There are plenty of reasons to not start Elf on the Shelf, but what if everyone (including you) just adores good old Jingles, Buddy or Snowflake? What if you just aren’t ready to write a goodbye letter from your elf? Do you really need to say, “Good Riddance” to your red-clad pal?
Of course not!
First, ditch the manipulative storybook that came with the Elf. Treat your elf as simply a beloved character, holding no more power than Mickey Mouse or Curious George. Instead of judgment, your elf only brings joy from now on.
Here are 3 Ways to Redeem your Elf:
Your elf can bring notes of encouragement, a good deed card, a surprise treat, a quote or bible verse, or even silly holiday jokes. You can vary the message, but it will always be a fun and positive way to start the day.
When your elf is found in the morning, he’s holding a note announcing that day’s special adventure leading up to Christmas. See this post for easy, but meaningful ideas. I’ve done a version of this for the past two years. It’s honestly been a great way for me to slow down and enjoy December. Along with simple, fun ideas like having hot cocoa or making paper snowflakes, I include things we need to do anyway like “Wrap presents for grandparents.” or “Stamp and mail Christmas Cards today!”
Hide & Seek Elf
Simply move your little friend around at night for a fun hide and seek in the morning. Let the kids know that it’s just for fun and nothing bad will happen if they touch the elf. One child was so distraught by accidentally touching her elf, she called 911. No one wants to put that kind of pressure on kids. Let them in on the fun by allowing them to take turns moving the elf and coming up with their own creative adventures to surprise YOU with in the morning!
If your elf’s antics are already part of a treasured family tradition, just be mindful of what messages are being sent. What role the elf is playing in your family? Is it simply a bit of fun, or might it be sabotaging what you really want your kids to learn about Christmas (and about life)?
If it’s not what you want, simply come clean to your kids and redeem your elf. Allow your children to securely trust you and not to question his or her worthiness. This Christmas, don’t let grace be erased by the watchful eye of the bendy little fellow in red pajamas.
“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
– Mr. Rogers
If you’d like an alternative to Elf on a Shelf, check these out: