Elf On The Shelf: Make It About Giving, Not Getting


Elf On The Shelf: Make It About Giving, Not Getting

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Bemused. Mildly horrified. Intrigued. That pretty much sums up how we feel about the Elf On The Shelf holiday phenomenon.

Many fans of this suddenly popular Christmas “tradition” have used our World’s Smallest Post Service to send their children custom tiny letters and packages from their Elf On The Shelf. There’s a long history of Santa corresponding by snail mail, and it makes perfect sense that elves would do the same, in miniature.

Yet the more we learn about how parents are deploying their Elf On The Shelf, the more we wish we could re-write the official instructions. Or maybe just get rid of them altogether. Psychology Today cut the elf down to size back in 2012, and The Huffington Post published a similar takedown a couple years later. Parenting experts pretty much agree that the Elf On The Shelf program, when followed according to the official storyline, is problematic at best. It may even do lasting damage by reinforcing a message that good behavior isn’t its own reward. That makes your job as a parent harder come January.


But It’s Just a Stuffed Doll!

And all my kids’ friends are talking about it at school! She feels left out.

Okay! With the right approach, your Elf On The Shelf can still be part of a wonderful new family tradition. One that focuses on giving instead of getting, true imagination instead of rule following, and friendship instead of surveillance.


Ideas to Reimagine Your Elf On The Shelf

  1. Throw the official rules away. Toss the storybook.

    Elf On The Shelf Red X-Out

  2. Announce that an elf has suddenly appeared. Let your kids ask questions and fill in the blanks through a guided Q&A.
    1. How might this elf have arrived here?
    2. Should we keep him?
    3. What should we name him?
    4. Why is he here?
    5. What might he do?
    6. How might he help us get into a spirit of giving (or whatever “the holiday spirit” means for your family)?
  3. Guide the story you make up together to be in line with your family’s own values.
    1. Maybe the elf hangs out with you whenever you’re doing nice things for other people.
    2. Is he a special seasonal visitor that reminds the other dolls in the house to be kind?
    3. How about a silent personal shopper that helps you find the perfect gifts for people you love?
    4. Perhaps he’s simply a merry prankster that reminds us to be jolly.
  4. Oh yeah, and consider letting your kids touch the elf if they want to. He won’t bite. Dolls are supposed to be grabbed, pinched, hugged, and otherwise smothered with affection. That’s kind of the point.
  5. Remember that once you buy an Elf On The Shelf, you own it. It’s yours. You can make up whatever stories or traditions are most appropriate for your family. Sometimes following the rules is important, but this just isn’t one of those moments. This is about your family and your values.


Already Have an Elf On The Shelf?

How have you tweaked, rewritten, or otherwise repurposed your own Elf On The Shelf story?


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Devin turns crafty ideas into surprising products and memorable experiences. He is co-owner of Leafcutter Designs, a creative studio and online shop based in Berkeley, CA.

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