STOP! Elf on a Shelf
Well this a bold statement, isn’t it?
I’ll get straight to the point: the Elf on the Shelf game is a misguided attempt at controlling your child’s behavior using rewards and punishments. And it’s guided by unrealistic expectations of childhood development.
Not to mention creepy. A spying elf? Or Big Brother?
As a W.E.I.R.D culture (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, And Democratic) who rebels and repels the ideas of surveillance and control, why do we insist on using it with our children?
Let’s stop that.
There is good news though. The tradition can be redeemed.
With a little bit of tweaking, you can make this game and ritual something that aligns with peaceful parenting. (And in case you haven’t noticed, peaceful parenting is kinda my THING.)
First, let’s break down the myth of this holiday tradition:
Punishments and rewards. The age old question of parenthood. To punish or not to punish.
At the heart of peaceful parenting lies the belief that our connection with our children is sacred. And that connection needs to be protected in order for us to maintain influence with our children. Punishment is always a disconnecting agent. It minimizes our influence.
Rewards are really just the other side of the coin. You can read more about my thoughts on punishments and rewards here, but essentially its a disingenuous way to control behavior.
The second issue with this game is the misunderstanding of bad behavior: whenever children are not successfully managing or regulating their emotions (we’re talking tantrums or screaming here) then it is labeled as Bad Behavior.
The problem with this is that it assumes the child made a choice to be bad. Which is misguided and a misunderstanding of childhood development.
When children meltdown or when they behave “badly”, it’s because they have a need that’s not being met. It might be that they’re hungry, they’re tired, or maybe it’s just not a developmentally appropriate expectation.
Children don’t behave badly because we haven’t sufficiently punished them or because we haven’t sufficiently rewarded them when they behave well.
It’s not because we haven’t manipulated them enough.
It’s because they need to learn those skills and because they need to mature and develop them.
So on to the good part: the redemption.
With a little creativity, you can turn this misguided game into a fun, peaceful tradition that fosters connection, kindness, and even empathy.
Ever heard of a ‘Kindness Elf’? Instead of spying and rewards, this Elf leaves small acts of kindness to the children (like sweet notes or cleaning up their toys), which encourages and inspires acts of kindness from the children.
How about the ‘Empathy Elf’? OK, I made that one up. But why not have your Elf become an extra listening ear to the children (and don’t we all need a little help from our friends on this one?)
Encourage your children to express their feelings to the Elf. Sadness, frustration at a sibling, gratefulness? Bonus: this develops emotional intelligence, emotional regulation, and verbal skills. yes please!
Speaking of learning skills, what about having your children practice reading to your Elf. Have you heard of the program where kids read to therapy dogs? So adorbs, right?
Adorableness aside, the program’s success is attributed to the low stress, low pressure environment dogs naturally manifest. Have you ever been around a puppy? Stress Level: Zero.
Promote your Elf to ‘Literary Elf’ this year. Encourage reading and story telling and even handwriting notes to the Elf. (just…maybe don’t tell your kids his new job title. 😉 )
An Elf that supports literacy on Christmas break? Sign me up for that tradition!
Need more ideas to help change the narrative of this holiday tradition from manipulation to kindness or empathy? Watch the video above!
And share with me in the comments your ideas! We can all benefit from you and your ideas!
Need GIFT IDEAS this holiday season? Download my holiday gift guide.