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 most toy shop counters. Huffington Post now runs articles listing 20 things to do with your elf and I am asked repeatedly whether I am 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 ways parents take part in Elf on the Shelf. Some use the elf to do hilarious things overnight while the children sleep. There’s toothpaste squirting, cake baking and all sorts of shenanigans. I don’t to this because I really cannot be arsed with the clean-up! I do plenty of other surprise things for S; she’ll often find surprises “from the fairies” waiting for her when she wakes up in the mornings – but only as and when; not every single day for a month. I can’t deal with that pressure!
Elf on the Shelf is watching you!
The other way parents use Elf on the Shelf bothers me a lot more. 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 fairly entertaining – but others have featured letters to children, telling them they have been “too naughty” and should buck up their ideas before Christmas; that they are being watched; the elf will report back to Father Christmas and so on. Some parents have witheld 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. Elf on the Shelf is 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; if a parent keeps using it children will grow wise to this, and it will lose its efficacy.
2. Elf on the Shelf doesn’t make it clear exactly what children should do.
“Be 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 make it clear exactly what we want them to do. Children find it hard enough to “behave” at the best of times. It’s ridiculous to expect a child who is over-excited in the run-up to Christmas to just know that their mum or dad will think this behaviour is good but this is bad. Better to say things like I’d like you to listen to me and do as I ask or I would like you oto make your bed before breakfast in the mornings. Then the child has a clear description of what they need to do in order to be deemed “good.”
3. Elf on the shelf is ridiculous because children are not able to control themselves.
Children find it 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 both exhausted and increasingly excited for Christmas. We all know and understand that children are tired and excited, but we still plan to punish them when they struggle to stay quiet and toe the line arbitrarily drawn by an adult.
4. Elf on the Shelf teaches the wrong values.
I want to raise my child to do the right thing all the time, not only in December, and not only because some creepy elf is watching her. I don’t want her only to “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 yoru 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.