The Elf on the Shelf Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Life

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An Elf on the Shelf. Image via the MacAndrew Family.

So you gave in. Maybe it was this year. Maybe it was some point in Christmas past. Maybe you were just hoping that you could do something magical for your kids one fateful year after you felt guilty for being “too boring” during previous holidays. You brought home an Elf on the Shelf, gave it an adorable name, and at some point in the first week it started to feel less magical and more like an elaborate commitment during a time of the year that’s already at least two parts crazy.

Here’s a secret I am going to let you in on: the Elf is only as complicated and stressful as you make him. Last year was the first year we brought out “Elfie” and with a little bit of foresight I set things up in a way that kept me from despising that inanimate little doll with the mischievous eyes and actually have some fun with the experience. I am now going to go ahead and share some of what I did to keep Elfie from ruining my life in the hopes that a few other parents can keep their Elf-related sanity this year.

1) Make your own Elf Rules. The Elf on a Shelf comes with a book all about the elf and what you are supposed to do with him. I promptly ignored it. Santa tends to work differently in every house depending on how a family wants Santa to fit into their holiday anyway. Guess what? The Elf can work under that theory too.

In our house Elfie is not a spy for Santa, he just comes and makes some holiday magic during December, helps Santa set out one cool gift for the boys on Christmas Eve, and then catches a ride back to the North Pole with Santa when his work is done. His magic does work best when the kids remember to be kind. I didn’t like the idea of the Elf as a snitch for Santa. First, my kids are decently behaved enough that I doubt they will do anything that makes me want to cancel Santa, and I don’t like the idea of threatening kids with a punishment that I am reluctant to enforce. Also, I feel that since the whole “Santa doesn’t like it when a kid is naughty” threat doesn’t tend to have an immediate follow through, the consequence doesn’t always feel real to kids and may not work the way parents hope it will.

Finally, we had a year where W was a toddler at the overstimulated and slap-happy stage on Christmas Eve when a relative tried to pull the whole “Santa won’t come if you aren’t good” routine. A, who was in Kindergarten, actually did take the threat for real and proceeded to have a meltdown that his brother was going to ruin their chances at getting the Playmobil castle they had asked Santa for. W, like most toddlers in the slap-happy stage, was too far gone to worry about what Santa might do. I then had to deal with two kids losing their collective business in different directions and try to cut the relative off of escalating in further.

Elfie can also be moved back to a little stocking that is his home. I am not dealing with the logistics of no one being able to move the Elf if he’s in an inconvenient place. Also, I don’t need A freaking out at W if he forgets the rules and touches Elfie.

Finally, Elfie does not make messes. We have a geriatric cat, two Lab mixes, and two boys, we do not need an Elf making up more things for us to clean up. Worried that you’re locked into the “official” rules already? Type up a note in a Christmas font and tell the kids that your Elf has new orders this year. Problem solved.

2) Plan for the little details that can catch you up. From what I’ve gathered, it’s usually the little things that cause the biggest issues. First off, set an alarm (like on your phone) so you remember to move your Elf. The Elf loses a lot of sense of magic when your kids are grumbling all day long that your Elf is boring because he doesn’t move. Second, if your Elf is going to leave notes for your kids, go find a free Christmas font and type them all up. You can not only do them in advance, but the real Elf in your house isn’t going to be outed by handwriting. Third, when the season is over, be careful how you store your Elf. Ours goes into a non-clear box in the crawlspace the kids can’t get at. Put your Elf in the same exact boxes as the Christmas decorations and one of your kids will probably find it when you pull stuff out for the season. Leave the Elf in a closet or under a bed and at some point, it’s going to be found. Bonus drama points if a family dog finds him and chews him up leaving recognizable Elf pieces for the kids to find.

3) You don’t have to over-complicate what your Elf does. The holidays are crazy enough, you do not need to go crazy elaborate to create some Elf magic. In our house, Elfie leaves a little note and will commend to boys if they did a particular kind or helpful action in the previous day. Then he either leaves something fun or goes off to play with something, usually giving the boys an idea on where to look for him.

Leaving something fun does not have to be too crazy, and Elfie usually takes credit for things we would have done anyway. Earlier in the month, he gets out our holiday books and is found reading one, he left out a few mini holiday Perler bead sets one day, and he also left snacks for Christmas movies on another. His two biggest presents are the advent calendars he brings when he arrives on December 1st, and the day before we see Santa he brings a funny shirt for them to wear (last year they had matching “Dear Santa, It Was My Brother’s Fault” shirts).

Simple gifts left by “Elfie,” mostly going to activities we would have done anyway. Image via The MacAndrew Family.

As for playing with things, Elfie uses what the kids already have. He’s been found cooking in the play kitchen, riding plush dragons, building a block tower, and trying to catch a plush Squirtle among other adventures. Most can be set up in minutes and the boys always find what he’s doing to be silly and fun.

The kids love when “Elfie” plays with their toys. Image via The MacAndrew Family.

December is soon upon us, now go off and have actual fun making magic with your Elf. Just remember, the Elf only has to ruin your life if you let him. Now I am off trying to name a reindeer because we had enough fun last year that Elfie is bringing a friend this year.

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4 thoughts on “The Elf on the Shelf Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Life

  1. I have this idea for a Krampus on a shelf. Depending on how good the child is, it gets closer or farther away every morning. Closer if they are bad…

    1. If I was going to do a terrifying Elf of sorts, I would do it with older kids (like middle school age) as a joke. Mine are young enough that would probably want to sleep in my room after the first time Krampus moved closer and then I’m getting the negative consequence too.

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