Why I Don’t Do Elf on the Shelf
Since S was born, Elf on the Shelf has gone from a tiny thing hardly anyone had heard of, to a massive annual event where the elves are stacked up in front of the counters of most toy shops and Huffington Post are running articles listing 20 things to do with your Elf. I have been repeatedly asked lately whether I’m doing Elf on the Shelf with S, or why I’m not doing it with her. After all, I’m a blogger – and all bloggers do Elf on the Shelf, don’t they?
There seem to be two different ways parents take part in Elf on the Shelf. Some parents use the elf to do hilarious things overnight while the children sleep. There’s toothpaste squirting, cake baking and general shenanigans. I don’t do this because I really cannot be arsed. I do plenty of other surprise things for S; she’ll often find things waiting when she wakes up in the morning or when she comes home from school – but only as and when, not every single day for a month. I can’t deal with that pressure!
The other way parents use Elf on the Shelf bothers me. The original idea behind Elf on the Shelf is that the elf arrives in the house at the beginning of Advent and watches the child until Christmas Eve, reporting back to Father Christmas as to how “good” they’ve been.
I really, really don’t like that.
My social media has been full of photos of that bloody elf and most have been quite entertaining – but others have featured letters to children telling them they’ve been “too naughty” and should buck their ideas up before Christmas, they’re being watched, the elf will report back to Father Christmas and so on. Some parents have withheld Advent calendar chocolate for “naughty” behaviour or brought in other punishments especially for the festive season.
Here are four reasons I don’t do Elf on the Shelf…
1. It’s manipulative. What we’re basically doing with this is attempting to manipulate children into doing what we want them to do for three weeks, by threatening them with something horrible which (I hope) we’ve no intention of actually following through on. Father Christmas won’t bring you any presents is an empty threat and if a parent keeps using it, children will grow bored of hearing it and it will lose its efficacy any way.
2. We’re not clear on what children are supposed to do. “Good” is subjective at best. What I consider to be “good” might be different from someone else’s idea, and what’s “good” in one situation might be “bad” in another. If we’re going to try and get our children to behave “better” we need to be a bit more clear on exactly what we want them to do. It’s ridiculous to expect an over-excited small child to just know that their mum or dad will label this behaviour as “good” but this as “bad.” Better to say “I’d like to you to listen to me and do as I ask you” or “I would like you to make your bed before you have breakfast in the mornings.” Then the child has a clear description of what they need to do in order to be deemed “good.”
3. Children don’t have that much self control. Children find it really hard to control themselves at this time of year. Christmas decorations have been in the shops since before Halloween and the excitement is being ramped up, week on week. When I posted on social media the other week that S was still completely exhausted after half term, I received several comments from parents and teachers saying that this is the toughest term for children because they’re exhausted but also increasingly excited for Christmas. So we all know and understand that children are tired and excited, but we’re still going to punish them when they struggle to keep quiet and toe the line drawn by an adult.
4. It teaches the wrong values. I don’t know about you, but I want to raise my child to do the right thing all the time, not only in December and not only when some creepy elf is watching her. I don’t want her to only “behave herself” when she thinks she’s being watched; I’m a single parent and I can’t watch her twenty-four hours a day. I need her to learn the difference between right and wrong, and then choose to do the right thing.
In our house there has been added excitement and disruption: we moved house two weeks ago, and our new house is in chaos as I struggle to find the time to unpack our never-ending junk. S is really struggling to do as she’s asked, and it’s really hard for both of us. I could put a toy elf in her bedroom and tell her he’s going to report her every move back to Father Christmas, but at four years old she’s not capable of remembering that all day, every day – heck, even adults have trouble remembering small things on a daily basis, every single day for a month.
It’s not that I think Elf on the Shelf is some terrible thing that will damage our children, and I’m really not judging you if you’re choosing to use an elf to get your child to behave; I don’t care what you do. For me though, I’m carrying on with the way I normally parent S. No elves, no threats, just as much patience and understanding as I can muster.