In Defense of the Elf on the Shelf | Still Playing School

In Defense of the Elf on the Shelf

By Devany | Labels:
Love him or hate him? Everyone seems to have an opinion of the Elf on the Shelf. We alter the tradition a bit in our home so that the magic is enough to overlook some of the potential negatives.  

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Our son D was born right in the middle of our first Elf on the Shelf season. I was exhausted but I would still somehow remember to move the elf when I was up in the middle of the night breastfeeding my newborn. In that first month of adjusting to sharing her momma with her new baby brother, our daughter E looked forward to our new tradition every morning. 

I would pry myself out of bed to spend some time solo with her finding the elf. Usually he simply moved to a new hiding spot each night. E was just about to turn three and she loved waking up to find him with me before she had her breakfast. Sometimes he even brought gingerbread play dough or another surprise with him when he arrived! 

Everyone seems to have an opinion about this little elf (whether they are asked or not). Here are several reasons I've heard and read on social media that people hate the Elf on the Shelf:

That pesky elf makes a mess!

Just like any other parenting decision, the details of this tradition in your home are up to you! We have never even read the book that comes with the elf because if our daughter thought our elf would lose his magic if someone touched him she would be so anxious that it wouldn't be fun anymore. 

In our home, we find the elf, gently carry him back to the shelf, and leave him there for the rest of the day. He rarely makes messes here and if he does we all help him clean them up (because in our home cooperation is an important value). How messy or clean or helpful or mischievous your elf is up to you as a parent! You can make those decisions based on your personality and your child's. Maybe that means you don't have an elf at all in your home, but no one is insisting that your elf make a mess or not be touched or any other of these elf rules, I promise!

I don't like the idea of my kids only behaving because he's watching!

I'm with you on this one. I want my kids' behavior to reflect what they feel is right in their hearts not what they think they must do because Santa or the elf or even me or their father is watching. Our elf flies back to the North Pole at night to help Santa with magical Christmas tasks, not to tattle on my kids.

It's too much work! I'll forget!

We've all been comfy in bed and realized that we forgot about the elf! I have several ways to make the elf work into our busy schedule before I get too tired at night. Last year I shared our Calendar of Elf on the Shelf ideas. I put more elaborate elf adventures on the weekends when I'll likely be up later to participate. On week nights our elf is more laid back. I set a reminder on my phone to beep after the kids are in bed but before I am so the elf isn't forgotten. This year, I'm planning an additional month of ideas ahead of time with my BFF neighbor. We want an educational spin on the elf so we are brainstorming ideas now, dividing the work, sharing materials. The best part is I'll be sharing these ideas and printables with our newsletter subscribers too so be sure you are signed up to get our weekly emails before your elf arrives!

He's creepy!

I'm sorry that I can't really help you with this one! I personally think the elf is cute in a vintage, whimsical way. There are several versions of the elf available. Our neighbor's son has a girl elf which I adore! Some adults and kids are just creeped out by the idea that the elf moves in their homes at night which is understandable but we love it!

In the end, I'm most likely never going to convince you to get a elf if you don't already have one. The idea of one more thing to do during the holidays is daunting at times for me too but the joy on my children's faces makes it all worthwhile. If nothing else, I hope we can just agree that it's beautiful that each family celebrate the season in ways that are meaningful to their individual families. This year I'm asking for zero unsolicited negative comments on elf antics because many families, including ours, simply love him so!

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  1. I enjoy watching the antics of Elf on your daily please continue

  2. I love the idea of setting a time on the phone so as not to forget to move him! I need that, even WITH a calendar!!

  3. Our elf isn't here to spy and report back to Santa either. We have fun with it and she brings a small treat or activity to do each day. I'm totally with you that an elf on the shelf can be adapted to fit the needs of your family - you don't have to follow the story!

  4. Thank you for all your ideas, I just received your email newsletter today and I am going to start this with my almost 3 year old. I am with you in the idea that you behave because that's what we do not because we want something. You said you tell your kids he flys back to help Santa but what exactly do you tell your kids he is doing in your home. I don't think you mentioned that? I was going to introduce him with a fun themed breakfast and he will bring her a new Christmas story and new ornament for her tree but am curious to your take on "why he is there".

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Leah! You know, this is a really great question. My kids never asked why. I think they just enjoy having him here. I think if they do ask I'll just say that Santa would like us to have a bit of Christmas magic in our home each day for the month to remind us that the joy is so much bigger than just one day! My reason, which I can explain to them when they're older, is the memories. I look forward to the elf as much as they do and I love the reactions and looks on their faces as they find him each day!

  5. Thank you..just curious! Enjoy the tradition and this holiday season with your family. As a busy mom who works during the day as a high school teacher I enjoy your blog, it helps me create some structured play opportunities for my daughter for when I get home! Thank you again.