The holiday season is upon us. It’s a really magical time of year and we can’t even tell you how much we enjoy the holiday season with our preschoolers and drop-in childcare visitors at Austin Kids Retreat. As much as we enjoy crafting the days away with them, we also love hearing different ways they experience holiday magic!
Of course, one of the biggest and latest trends to perpetuate the magic of the holiday season is none other than the Elf on the Shelf (or one of the many similar products such as the Mench on the Bench, or these other fun alternatives)
But should your family “do” Elf on the Shelf?
Common complaints we hear about the Elf are:
-not wanting to use the Elf as a threat for good behavior
-not wanting to have to do all the work of setting the Elf scene each night
-not wanting to scare your child as “the Elf is watching”
-not wanting to have to come up with new ideas for the Elf each day
Do any of these legitimate concerns sound familiar?
No doubt, every parent has had a thought at least similar to those outlined above! But not to fret friends – we want to share with you some helpful tips in this article:
-Helpful ways your Elf can teach self-reflection
-Helpful ways your Elf can encourage kindness
-Helpful ways your Elf can help your child set good intentions for the next day
-Easy to Medium Difficulty Ideas for your Elf for the entire month of December!
First, you should know the story of the Elf on the Shelf.
Many of the sets come with a book that explains this and/or the movie.
In the Book:
The Elf arrives. He isn’t activated by Christmas magic until the following conditions are met: it’s at least December 1st and your child must give the Elf his/her name! (our Elf is a boy called Elfredo! We will be referring to the Elf as “him” for that reason in this article).
The Elf then stays at your home and uses Christmas magic to move when you’re not looking. You may NOT touch him because it may make him too weak to go to the North Pole that night– but he’s always listening. So children are encouraged to talk to him and share their likes, dislikes, how their day was, hopes, and dreams!
If your child does touch him – he gets to stay in his spot an extra day as he gets his Christmas magic strength back. On December 24th when Santa comes to bring the presents, the Elf heads back to the North Pole with a promise to be back again next year on December 1st.
In the book and the movie the Elf doesn’t do extreme things at night while the children are sleeping. That rendition of the Elf’s character comes from the lovely creative blogger mom’s of Pinterest!
In the Movie:
The story line of how the Elf works is the same, but in the movie we have a young boy who no longer believes in Santa. We watch his little sisters share their days with the Elf but the little boy doesn’t believe…until he touches the Elf and the Elf loses some of his Christmas magic. After some time the boy comes to believe in the magic of the Elf – and that of Santa and Christmas! The lesson here: one (or even several) bad days doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for some Christmas spirit to emerge!
How Your Elf Can HELP Your Child Reflect, Be Kind, and Set Good Goals
Much like the Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”….you know, the one with the lyrics: “he sees you when you’re sleeping | he knows when you’re awake | he knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake” …the “threat” of Santa is simply a tool a parent can choose to employ whether they want to or not.
Exposing your child to this Classic Christmas song won’t necessarily make them feel threatened/under constant observation. And having an Elf might not necessarily make your child feel like threatened either. It’s all in how you use the Elf on the Shelf and frame the conversation.
But how can your Elf be a helpful tool?
Here’s how we use this Elf on the Shelf as Tool For Kindness:
Each night we love to connect with our kids (you might have read our Rose & Thorn article) about the good and bad of their day.
So, as usual, we ask variations of these questions:
-How was your day today?
-Best/worst moment? Aka Rose and Thorn
-What do you think Elfredo will say to Santa about your day?
-What do you think we could do better tomorrow?
-What 5 things do you want Elfredo to know you’re grateful for?
-What’s something kind you did today that Elfredo would’ve seen? Something you can do tomorrow?
And it’s interesting to see how the answers because a little more truthful and the reflection deeper from when we ask the first question: “How was your day today” vs the more reflective answer we get from “What do you think Elfredo will say to Santa about your day?”
In these examples – there is no negative connotation or threat , i.e., the threat of presents being withheld (a threat more often than not is just an empty threat and those are never great!)
Instead, your child has the opportunity to learn how to reflect on their day and set some good goals for the next day. What a way to shift mindset and let them gather some self-responsibility!
For younger children who maybe can’t recall the highs and lows of their day and verbalize them – you as the parent can model this behavior by sharing your answers to these questions or verbalizing your child’s day and specific highlights on their behalf:
“Benny, you were so nice sharing your train with your brother today. It made mommy so happy to see you share! Do you think your Elf was happy to see your kind behavior?”
Are We All Aboard the Elf on the Shelf Train?
Remember there are lots of alternatives if you’ve read the above and find it’s still not the right choice for your family. From more religious, to different religions, to silly alternatives – there are plenty of alternative choices out there!
However, if you’ve decided to take on the magic of making the Elf on the Shelf come alive in your home, here are some Elf on the Shelf ideas!
- Set the Bar Low. This sentence might make your laugh but take it to heart! If this is your first year attempting Elf on the Shelf or your child is particularly young – maybe doesn’t quite get it – I promise you just the magic of moving the Elf and going on a fun adventure together to find the Elf is plenty of Christmas spirit for most children!
- The Elf Brought It. Here’s an easy trick: when the Elf first arrives on December 1st, he or she shows up with things you might have already been planning on buying for your kids. For example, Elfredo shows up with our Advent Calendar, Christmas Pajamas, and a Christmas Book! These items were already traditions we started with our children, and by giving the Elf the credit, he becomes even more magical to the kids. You can also stagger the gifts to make this easy idea last more than one night!
- Get Creative…with a Low Creative Threshold. Sure you can buy lots of Elf add-ons these days. Or there’s plenty of Easy Elf on the Shelf ideas that require little to no effort, forethought, or time (depending on what you already have at home).
Below we’ll share some pictures of 24 EASY Elf on the Shelf Ideas!