Elf on the shelf?

Do you elf, or do you leave it on the shelf?

For many families the fun has begun – the elf’s cheeky antics entertain their children in the morning, as it spills the milk, covers the house in toilet roll, goes parachuting with Mum’s knickers and takes Barbie prisoner. As a Mum who finds December busy enough I am left wondering how many people have the time and energy to manage it, and if my kids are missing out by not ‘elfing’?

Time for some research. The elf has only been on the shelf since 2005. You buy the kit (elf, book, box) and tell your kids the story. The elf arrives on Thanksgiving / December 1st with the job of scouting for Santa to check if your children are naughty or nice and reports back to Santa at the North Pole every night. Of course, as a cheeky elf he has some fun on his return.

On the upside, elf on the shelf lets you have a giggle together in the morning (if you put the effort in the night before) and I’m told it can bring massive behaviour improvements for the month of December. One Mum joked that life was so much better with the elves that she was considering keeping them all year!

But if the goal is better behaviour, then the story is basically bribery. If it is all for the fun then there are laughs to be had through deceiving your kids. Some people describe ‘elfing’ as a “dangerous parenting crutch”* or a worrying extension of the “surveillance state” (with some parents going as far as telling their children that the motion sensors connected to the burglar alarm are actually Santa cams, which he watches to see if we are naughty or nice!)

This isn’t a judgement against fun! We all know that parenting is hard work. December busyness can push us to the edge of our resources and we all long for some light relief. In the hanging-on-for-the-end-of-term chaos, having a laugh with your kids could be great for you and them. If that is all it is, then go for it!

But as parents we must also take the long view. We don’t want our kids motivated only by bribery, “I won’t be good until you give me a bigger present”. What happens when they’re 15? Will we need to reward them with a motorbike?! We also want our kids to trust us to tell them the truth, to enjoy imaginative stories with us, and to be able to tell the difference between the two.

As a Christian mum I want my child’s behaviour to be changed by God’s word and the Spirit. I want them to love a better story; a true story! I want to laugh with them as often as possible but without lying to them. I want to give them great gifts because I love them and want to show them the same grace God showed us by giving us his Son. If that’s what you want, work out what that it will look like for your family. Don’t feel bullied into doing anything just because others do. What do you want most for your child? How will you channel your efforts and energy to get that?

Here are some ideas for focusing on the Christmas story during Advent …

– Look out for a ‘names of Jesus’ advent calendar
– Use ideas from ‘Shepherd on the search’, hiding a shepherd around the house and completing a Bible-based activity daily. (Shepherd on the Search materials are available in the States but hard to get in the UK).
– Read a Bible passage together when you open the day’s advent calendar window (chocolate optional!)
– Make a ‘Jesse tree’ 
– If every day is too much, have a weekly family advent activity – light a candle, read from a gospel account of the First Christmas, have an indoor snowball fight … whatever you like!
– Use all your creativity, adventure and fun to bring the Christmas story alive – Dress up like angels and scare a parent with your singing, announcing that Jesus is born! Sit outside in the dark round the barbeque and pretend to be shepherds on a hillside! You might even be brave enough to knock on every door in the street and tell them the good news, like the shepherds did!

Let’s use this advent to have a laugh with our children and enjoy the best story we can share that is totally true: not the Elf on the Shelf, but the Saviour in the Stable!

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

*Dr David Kyle – “Let’s bench the elf on the shelf”, Psychology Today, 2012 (

Amy Smith