Elf on the Shelf - popular thing in households across the world. And I just wanted to share my two cents on it for what it's worth. We do elf on the shelf in my house, my kids are almost five and six and a half. We do it and they love it.
However, I've tweaked it, and I've changed the story that goes with it based on a bit more of a respectful interaction with my kids.
For those of you not familiar, elf on the shelf is, basically, a little elf whose story is that they come from the North Pole from Santa, they sit somewhere in your house, get up to mischief in the night, and he watches you to make sure you're being good and makes sure you're being nice. If you are being good he reports back to Santa, "Yep, this kid's on the good list." And if you're being bad he reports back to Santa, "This kid's being bad." And so it's a checks and balances sort of system that parents use to keep their kids behaving and threatened, basically, during Christmas to behave. It builds on the same concepts that we have for most of our childhoods of Santa and being on the naughty list or the nice list and "Santa is not going to bring you presents, he's going to bring you coal if you don't behave or whatever." So that's kind of where I think it comes from - the tradition. There's a book and the little elf doll that goes with it.
My issue with that, though, is I find it pretty creepy. I think it's just like being watched. If you told an adult, "I'm gonna put a camera in your house and it's just gonna watch you and just observe how you are. And if you are a good wife, or a good husband, or a good daughter, a good son to your elderly parents, then good things will happen for you. But if not, bad things will befall your family." That's how I kind of think it sounds. And I think it's just kind of weird. It's one of those traditions that we just got to take a step back and think about. Is this really the kind of value I want to be teaching my kid? That people are watching you, People are judging you, criticizing you, and you'll be shamed, essentially, if you don't behave, because you're going to get on the naughty list.
That's a whole other conversation right about shame and how shame is just not a motivator, and it does not accomplish what you think it's going to accomplish. Shame makes people think they're incapable of change, doesn't motivate people to change, it makes them think that they suck, and they are crap. And they're not worthy. And they have no value, and they're not lovable. That's not motivating. And that's partly my opinion, but partly based on bajillions of articles and studies on how detrimental shame is as a parenting tool. So Elf on the Shelf just feels like a massive shaming tool that I just don't think is effective. I think it also creates a lot of fear.
A lot of times I see in families kids that are highly anxious, or have lots of meltdowns and have a lot of anger issues, which stems back to anxiety and fight/flight response from creating another element of fear in my home that "I'm being watched, and I have to always be good. And I have to always be regulating my emotions." That pressure amplifies a lot of behavior in kids - the behaviour you don't want to be seeing, because they feel stressed, essentially, because they're being watched.
I mean, how would you feel if your boss said to you, "I'm going to put a camera on your desk and watch and make sure that you're always --every phone call." It's like when you hear the recording, 'This phone call might be recorded for training purposes.' How would you feel if every interaction in your house, you were being recorded for 'parenting training purposes.' And a parenting expert is going to be watching the tapes of how you parent and then deciding whether or not you've earned your next ManiPedi or champagne night with the girls. Dude, that's weird. It's not cool.
I also don't like the dynamic that it creates in the home of a power dynamic that Santa and the elf have more power over you, child. I just think it's going to create and cause more problems than benefits, because it makes them feel anxious. It makes them feel stressed. It makes them feel not good enough, not lovable just as they are, that they have to behave and be good to be worthy of presents.
What? Listen to that, that does not sound cool. So what I like to do instead, is I like to do an elf that is silly and he reminds us about being silly and fun and the importance of play and imagination. And he also reminds us about being kind. So he's a Kindness Elf in our house and he does kind things and he helps one of the stuffed animal bunnies, the side seam split. And so Buddy, the elf, our elf, stitched her back up, because he's a kind elf and he helps. So it's more about promoting the concept and the value of kindness and helping other people. That's what our elf is all about, and what we sort of bring him in for.
And I think it's just a fun thing with imagination and with playfulness for kids. When they're little, they still have magic. That's what we call it, actually 'magical thinking' is what the technical term is. Magical Thinking. Up until about six or seven, because the parts of the brain that are a bit more about reasoning and logic and kind of go "Hang on, that dude couldn't get to everywhere in the world in one night." That bit is not really 'on' yet. So they don't really get that. So the magic that the elf brings is believable, and real, which is fun.
You can do a lot of really fun things that just encourage that imagination and creativity and fun and playfulness and excitement in the house and every morning they get to like look forward to that.
So we try to do the kindness thing, because I think that my big issue with Elf on the Shelf is: what are we doing here? Right? What are we teaching our kids? We're modeling, basically, that I manipulate, coerce, intimidate, judge you for your behavior? Is anyone doing that for you, as the adult in the home? Probably no.
Well, if we do, if we are in a relationship with someone who manipulates us - another adult that manipulates us, forces us, criticizes, judges, controls, corrects us constantly - we call that an abusive relationship. And we get out of that relationship, right? We don't want to be in relationships like that: to be dominated like that, threatened? "If you don't do this, then ___. You better be on your best behavior or ___." As adults, we don't tolerate relationships like that.
But why do we do that to our kids? Doesn't make sense, doesn't compute. Why would we do that to our children who we love more than anything in the world? We are their greatest teachers. We are here to model for them the kind of behavior we want to see in them that they then bring into the world as they grow up. And so we're modeling that kind of manipulation? That doesn't fit for me.
I hope that's helpful. Those are my thoughts on that. We'd love to hear what you have to say. It's a very contentious topic, the old Elf on the Shelf.
With the book, too, we just don't read the book that comes with it, because the book perpetuates this whole "You need to be good" thing. Also, what is it even mean? I mean, ew, do you need to be good as an adult to be worthy of presents? No, your worth is inherent, you have worth and value just as you are just as you are, you don't need to work for it. You don't need to hustle for your worthiness. You're enough just as you are. You don't need to do anything to have worth or value as an adult. So why do we tell our kids that the rules are different for them? When they have an immature brain that's incapable of regulating their emotions and impulses?
Kids aren't naughty. There's no such thing as naughty behavior. All behavior is communication. So if your kid is drawing on the walls or punching their sibling, there's more going on and you need to get curious about what's happening beneath the surface. They're not naughty. And if they are doing stuff that's 'attention-seeking,' it's care seeking, they're connection seeking. There's a need that's not being met. Kids don't act bad just to act bad. There's always more to it, always way more going on beneath the surface. So we need to get curious about that.
And if you're using manipulation, coercion, intimidation as your parenting tool, good luck with that. It's not going to work in the long term. And even if it does work in the short term, it creates disconnection and it separates you guys. It doesn't bring you together. And if you're pulled away, you have less ability to influence, you have less ability to hear from them what's going on for them, support them if they're in a hard time. It undermines you more than it helps you. But it seems like it would work because it's a short term fix. But it doesn't really accomplish what you're after.
Whereas if you model for them: kindness, compassion, empathy, and that's what your elf does, that's then what they're going to take away from that. "Being a secret kindness elf is cooler," doing little sweet things like "I picked up your shoes for you and I put them back where your shoes go." Or "I laid out your school uniform for tomorrow." You know, a kindness elf, "I set up your breakfast for you." Those kinds of things are then what you're teaching your kids, because that's the behavior you want to see. Right?