Oh, the Elf on the Shelf.

When I first heard about this little creature, I will admit I immediately declared myself a non-elfer. The Elf on the Shelf official website describes the elves as “…magical helpers that help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists by reporting back to him at the North Pole nightly.”

No. Thank. You.

I can’t stand the idea of yet another concocted power-play to make kids behave – or else. It’s like the threat of a lump of coal in your stocking, merely dressed up in a cuter package.

My very firm belief is that these kinds of power plays are NOT where parents should be drawing their power from in terms of eliciting good behaviour from their kids. And more than that, attempting to conform kids with such antics can have some problematic repercussions – which I write about in my book, Discipline without Damage.

However, I also have some crafty sorts of friends who were onto that right from the very beginning and refused to buy into the naughty list elf shenanigans. Instead, the Elf for them has become this fun little holiday tradition – a special visitor sent by Santa to help count down to the big day. And along the way, the Elf has all sorts of fun. I think maybe some of those parents have just as much fun setting up the Elf as their children do discovering the Elf’s antics each morning!

But is there a point when it becomes too much?

If you have dared to enter Elf on the Shelf as a Pinterest search term you will have seen with your very own eyes how crazy the Elf on the Shelf stuff has become! And what’s more, in some classrooms the Elf and its antics has become something of a competition. Whose Elf is cooler? Whose Elf did the craziest thing? Who has Instagram pics to prove it?


So what are we to do about keeping the Elf thing contained?

How do we have it be just something fun?

How do you avoid having the elf become a misplaced power card for securing good behaviour?

How do you keep from wanting to shelve your elf because you can’t keep up??!!

Here are 3 simple guidelines I offer to help you keep your elf tradition feeling more nice than naughty:

Avoid using the elf as Santa’s spy.
  • Do not connect the elf to whether or not a child will receive a gift. The elf is not your source of power as a parent. Your heart and your relationship with your child is where that comes from. Let’s keep it real.
Do only what feels manageable to you with your Elf’ing tradition.
  • If you are too exhausted or too busy, your children need you more than they need another night of Pinterest inspired elf magic. So go to bed. Come up with a cute elf story (which Pinterest can also help you out with!) for why the Elf is just hanging out on this particular morning. And carry on. No biggie.
Encourage your child to avoid the Elf-comparison-game.
  • A simple, swagger-infused response from you such as “Everybody’s Elf is different – our Elf will just be doing what our Elf does. That is just what elves do.” The end. No further explanations. No value attached either way. Let the elves be! And in the meantime, your child gets a handy lesson in not buying into the shallowness of a tradition gone wrong.


While the introduction of the Elf on the Shelf is a personal one for each family, I urge all Elf-ing parents to have fun with their Elf, and not get wrapped up in the competition and punitive aspects of the tradition.


Dr V