Why these moms refuse to do Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf is back — but not all parents are into the holiday spirit.  (Photo: AP)

Elf on the Shelf is back — but not all parents are into the holiday spirit. (Photo: AP)

About a month before Christmas, many children find a new resident in their home: an elf on the shelf. During the day, the little creatures spend their time watching how the children behave. At night, the elves fly back to the North Pole to deliver a report, only to return the next morning to resume their watch from another location.

Some parents take the tradition to the extreme, spending hours planning how to introduce their elf each morning and carrying out their plans each night after their children go to bed. Elves can make a mess in the kitchen, cover the toilet with wrapping paper or dress up like a princess. Some parents spend hundreds of dollars on supplies or pre-made kits with the props they need to make it all happen.

But other parents resist the leprechaun idea altogether, with some citing concerns about using a spy leprechaun as a behavior management tool.

“I do not like this [my son] would feel like he’s being evaluated every second of every day,” mom Taylor Beal told Yahoo Life. “He doesn’t have to sing for us to celebrate the magic of Christmas.”

A key component of the Elf on the Shelf story is that children believe they will receive better presents if the elf gives Santa a good report. Traci Williams, a board-certified child and family psychologist, says she worries that when elves are used to control a child’s behavior, parents are engaging in empty threats. They often tell their children that if the elf doesn’t make a good report, Santa won’t bring them presents, which never happens. Plus, the leprechaun is only around for a month, so parents have to develop other ways to reinforce good behavior the rest of the year, creating inconsistency. Kids might even wonder why they have to behave if the elf isn’t following them.

Zoe Kumpfmueller resisted the elf in part because she believes it’s important to “give our kids the message that they should try to be on their best behavior all year round, rather than just in the run-up to Christmas.”

While Williams loves the holidays and believes family traditions are important, she warns that relying on a made-up story to control her children “can erode trust, and the child might wonder what else you lied about.” Asking children to accept the leprechaun without question also discourages children from thinking critically at a time when parents should be encouraging this essential skill.

Another aspect of the Elf on the Shelf tradition that she and other moms who spoke to Yahoo Life object to is the effort many parents go to to create elaborate, Instagram-worthy displays, many of which require expensive props. Parent Sally Allsop warns it may not go as expected as it is hard to stop. “My friends started and regretted it.” Another danger according to Allsop: “One [friend] she even said her child was waking up at 4am to see where the elf was.”

During Homecoming Week of the Girl Scouts (which this year runs from November 23rd to December 2nd), parents start setting up their Elf on the Shelf displays.  (Photo: James Devaney/Getty Images)

During Homecoming Week of the Girl Scouts (which this year runs from November 23rd to December 2nd), parents start setting up their Elf on the Shelf displays. (Photo: James Devaney/Getty Images)

But with all the hype and pressure to go all-in on the holiday trend, are kids who don’t wake up with an elf missing out on the fun? Williams knows that resisting this pressure can be difficult, but she encourages every parent to feel empowered to say no to anything they’re unwilling or unable to do. Instead, parents can emphasize the traditions their family has around the holiday or work to create new traditions that work for them.

Beal — who worried her son would be “rated” by an elf doll — recently had to tell her grandmother she couldn’t buy an elf for her kids.

“I do a lot to make the holidays enjoyable for my kids,” she says. “I don’t have time to add something I have to commit to every night! And let’s be real – packing lunch and cooking dinner is enough to worry about every night without creating an elf scene.”

Young children may wonder why they don’t have an elf as their friend. Williams recommends explaining to children in an age-appropriate way that they don’t have to act a certain way to receive gifts. Amy Wehiher has found an unexpected benefit in telling her son that he doesn’t need an elf to watch over him because he’s already well behaved. “It’s a confidence booster for him, which helps with any disappointment he feels about not having an elf,” she says.

To make sure a child doesn’t spill the beans to other kids, parents can explain that while they don’t think Santa needs a nightly report, other families do and that’s okay. This approach can teach children that they should respect other beliefs. Another tactic is to not make much of the elf or lack thereof. “When we make a big deal out of something, so do they,” Williams says.

And if the pressure to have an elf gets too much, especially from your own child, Williams recommends using the doll as a prop, free of any behavioral expectations. Parents can move the elf every night to create a morning scavenger hunt, but they should be honest that they are the ones moving it. Another simple way to have an Elf on the Shelf is for parents and kids to come up with ideas for new displays that they can create as a family.

Amanda Green says her kids, ages 4 to 7, haven’t asked for a leprechaun yet, but if they do, she’ll “let them in on the secret and they can choose to move it every day if they want to,” says she. “I think they know it’s a game that parents play.”

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