Why I Won’t do Elf on the Shelf |

Why I Won’t do Elf on the Shelf

admin December 4, 2015

Up until last year, I didn’t really know what “Elf on the Shelf” even was.

Every December, I saw elves posed in cute little mischief and shared online.  I actually thought that was pretty cool — parents posing the elves at night, so the kids could “discover” what the elf had “gotten into” in the morning.  It sounded like a nice little game to play with your kids.  I wasn’t cool enough to do it every day, of course, but it still sounded fun.

Then I learned what “Elf on the Shelf” actually is.

Elf on the Shelf

“Elf on the Shelf” isn’t about cute, fun games.

Apparently, what it’s really about is surveillance.  The idea is that the elf is hidden each night (not necessarily in interesting positions, getting into mischief, but just hidden somewhere). When the kids wake up in the morning, they have to find the elf.  The elf serves as a reminder that Santa is always watching, so they had better be good.  The elf is Santa’s “representative.”

It’s supposed to inspire kids to “be good” in the month of December so they can earn their Christmas presents — because only good boys and girls get presents, and the bad boys and girls get coal.  The elf just personifies this old tale.

That’s…such a bad idea, on so many levels.

Teaching Kids That “Someone’s Watching”

The idea that some authority figure is always watching is not good, especially in this day and age.

Sometimes, there is someone watching.  It’s easier than ever for the government or companies or really anyone to spy on anyone else — thanks to the internet.  Teaching our kids this is normal and good and we should accept the surveillance is problematic.

Plus, it’s creepy.  Who wants an elf (or anything) in their house, that they think is “always watching?”  Not all kids really get the difference between fantasy and reality when they are very young, and may wonder if the elf is real, or could become real, and if it is really watching.  To some kids that’s fun and games; to others, it could truly be scary.

And, worse, teaching them that they ought to obey this authority without question — is dangerous.  We need to be teaching our children to question more, not less.

Be Good Only When Someone’s Watching

A bigger issue, for me, is that this is not at all in line with respectful parenting.

Children need to grow up to learn to do good, to do the right thing, all the time — not just when someone is watching.  Scaring children into “being good” just because someone is watching them and they might get in trouble/lose a privilege is not teaching them true morality.

Over time, children develop a true moral compass, a desire to sort out right from wrong, and do right because it’s right — and not just because they were told to, or might get in trouble if they don’t.  But this takes longer to develop, or doesn’t develop at all if a child is made to think that the reason you should do right, is because of what someone else will do to you if you don’t.  They don’t internalize morality.

Plus, what is “be good” anyway?  Obviously, treating others nicely is being good.  Not destroying property is being good.  But some people also define “being good” as not having tantrums, not yelling or crying, not making messes, etc.  These are things that immature children simply do because they are immature children.  Having standards for them above and beyond what they are capable of is not fair and not helpful.

“I Love You If…”

Finally, “Elf on the Shelf” is part of our unfortunate culture of conditional love.

“I’ll only give you presents if you’re good.”  A gift is something we give because we love someone, regardless of what they do.  They don’t have to earn it.  It’s given freely.  A reward is something we give dependent on specific behavior or actions.  So what is Christmas…gifts, or rewards?

If Christmas is truly about gifts and about love, then Christmas happens no matter what.  Christmas can communicate unconditional love, by offering our children something that we know they’ll enjoy with no strings attached.  By giving to them (and hopefully encouraging them to give to each other), we can teach them what giving truly is.  We can encourage them to give in love, and to receive gratefully.

But when we tie Christmas to behavior or actions, we take away the joy of giving in unconditional love.  We make Christmas conditional.  Christmas is a reward for “being good.”  Then, if they are “good” and they get presents, they have no need to feel gratitude.  They have, after all, “earned” this Christmas and these gifts.  They’ve held up their end of the bargain already; gratitude is not necessary.

I would rather teach my children about unconditional love and give them gifts freely than to make an exchange: presents for being “good.”  “Elf on the Shelf” pretty clearly makes Christmas about that exchange, and not about unconditional love.

If you’re not a Christian, consider the message of peace and unconditional love and how important that is to teach our children.

If you are a Christian, Jesus came for us in unconditional love.  He was the ultimate gift and given even though we didn’t deserve it.  How can we twist His birthday to be a way to control and manipulate our children?  Is that really what He intended?  I think not.

End the Manipulations

This year, say no to “Elf on the Shelf.”  Make Christmas about joy again, instead of about “who’s watching” and “being good.”  Make Christmas about unconditional love, the surprise of gifts given in love, and gratitude for each gift with sincere thanks to the giver.  Model this for your children, instead of teaching them “someone’s always watching.”

If you like the cute little elf games, then by all means — play.  I still think setting up an elf in silly mischief-type situations for the kids to discover sounds like fun.  As long as there are no strings attached.  It’s just a game to play and enjoy together.  There’s no harm in that.

How do you feel about “Elf on the Shelf?”


This is the writings of:



  1. Got news for you. God is always watching whether you believe in Him or not. And He is very concerned with our behavior.


    • Lucy ~ you are SO right! How we choose to share the Elf really does depend on us, as parents. Our Elf is not magical, doesn’t move and is a child of God! Our children teach him right/wrong, and what it means to love, forgive, share and play as Christ wants us to~ with Him in our hearts! My kids are allowed to play with him and they LOVE it! Yes, our Elf comes after Thanksgiving, but he arrives during the season of Christ! And celebration!


    • Yes but He is more concerned with our hearts and that we turn to Jesus, the only One who can bring about true change. The law was given to us as a schoolmaster…to show our need for Jesus.


    • Maybe so, Lucy, but God doesn’t only give us good things when we behave properly. He gives us good all the time, whether we deserve it or not. He shows us unconditional love.


    • AMEN! I was going to make close to this same comment. We don’t do Santa or elves the way the world perceives it because to me it is lieing to your kids. Plus I would rather take credit for getting them what they have. God is our ultimate authority and for those who believe in him and have accepted Jesus Christ as our lord and savior we know He is always watching and we do what we do out of love for him and what He does for us.


  2. I’ve seen the “kindness elves” online and I think these are a fun alternative. You still have the fun of searching for the elves in the morning, but they focus on kindness. These elves “live with” the family during December and may suggest kind actions like “let’s make cookies for the neighbors” or have notes for the children “I noticed how you were kind to your sister yesterday.” However, these are encouraging good behavior, not reporting back to anyone.


  3. You have some great points here. Heres a few other reasons on my list:

    1) an elf that makes messes in my house?! are you kidding me? SO not needed.
    2) It adds to my to-do list in December + provides opportunity for me to fail at something else to remember every day
    3) it adds a place for mom guilt / comparison
    4) Parenting philosophy: Don’t try to make happy kids happier. and keeping expectations low-key + developing contentment in their hearts.
    5) There is greater joy to be had than this.


  4. I don’t like elf on the shelf, I think the elf itself is creepy! (I’m a doll hater, so it’s a personal thing.) I do agree it’s a bad idea to use the elf to make kids think they are being watched so they will behave. I had no idea that that was the rule of the game. Hopefully not every family that “plays” elf on the shelf uses that ploy, it can certainly be played without it and used only for fun.

    God, though, is always watching! He is always there, we can’t hide anything from Him, and yes He cares about our behavior!


  5. I won’t do elf on the shelf for the same reason i won’t do santa claus- because i want to be honest with my children and not lie to them


  6. I do a variation called kindness elves, my children are not told they are being watched, they are told the elves come to visit to help spread the Christmas spirit.
    Each day they are given a task to complete that is kind to others. The elves do get up to mischief, but they also help.
    They help create the magic of Christmas. They also fly between their dads house and my house, it has helped with the transition into living with separated parents. My kids are so excited to see when the elves will appear in each household.


  7. Can anything just be for fun? Do we have to over analyze everything?


  8. Very interesting point of view. I don’t agree with it but then again I am one of those horrible parents who elf on shelf and enjoys it. It is a tradition and my 6 year old was over the moon to see our elf this year. He talks to him afterschool, yells at him when he is naughty, there is a relationship. I believe letting the magic of Christnas inspire both my kids. Imagination is important just like unconditional love. I also do toy advent calenders and tell my kids they can’t open the box until the are dressed and ready for the day. We have a fun household and that is the way I choice to parent my children. Keep in mind my kids also have manners as well at the age of 6 and 3. I am not above bribery but I am above people thinking there way is of parenting is better then the person sitting next to them


    • I’m not sure why you thought it was implied that anyone is “…one of those horrible parents who elf on the shelf and enjoys it?” I said nothing like it, so if you read that judgment, that was your own interpretation. Let go of the guilt and don’t let a post on the internet make you feel bad about parenting your own way! Really, it’s just my thoughts on why I don’t, not a condemnation of those who do.


  9. We do Elf on the Shelf and I enjoy it very much. I love watching my daughter’s excitement every morning as she goes through the house looking for him. She loves him and talk about him all year. We do not really pitch the whole he is watching idea. My daughter knows that is the premise behind him, but I do not use it as a blackmail type thing. If you do Santa with your kids the whole thought is he is watching all year.

    I however, do not like telling a child they are good or bad. People are not born “bad”. We use the terms good decisions and bad decisions, because that to me is just a better way to talk to a child. It makes me sad to think of someone looking at their little child and telling them they are bad, that is what really bothers me. A 4 year old is not bad, they are learning what is okay.

    I do think your article has some good points in it, thank you for posting.


  10. Id never do this simply because I want our focus to be on the birth of our savior! I can’t control the overly commercialized Christmas that we see in the stores, but I can control the culture in of our home. We don’t do Santa either, but instead focus on the real Saint Nicholas who was the bishop of Myra.


  11. We don’t do elf on the shelf. I thought it was kind of creepy. But we already had a similar tradition that we have done for years. On the first Sunday of advent we set up our nativity. But the wise men are placed somewhere else in the house. Then throughout the advent season our wisemen “journey from the east” and occasionally run into hurdles in their journey. Each night we move the wisemen and set them up in some way. The kids jump out of bed every morning and run downstairs to see where the wise men are. Sometimes we use their toys, like they might build a shelter out of Legos or be on their toy boat crossing a pretend river. It’s tons of fun for the kids and if it symbolizes anything it’s that seeking Jesus is our greatest journey in life – a message I want my kids to get.


  12. I think, with all things, it’s the attitude of the parents. I love those families who I see making it all about elf mischief, much like our family does with leprechaun mischief during St. Patricks’ Day. I’m no fan of the Santa aspect of Christmas, but playing and teasing with a mischief-making elf can be fun.

    I hate when it is tied into the original purpose of the ‘better be good or else’ original story. It’s wrong on so many levels that you’ve outlined.


  13. Elf on the shelf is not only creepy it’s really stupid. You let an Elf get into all this mischief and yet when your kids do it they’re bad. It’s a double standard, do you think that kids don’t say to themselves why is the Elf allowed to dump cereal and I get in trouble for it? Also Christmas is an adopted Pagan holiday the birth of Christ is actually in the spring.


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Hi, I’m Kate.  I love medical freedom, sharing natural remedies, developing real food recipes, and gentle parenting. My goal is to teach you how to live your life free from Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Government by learning about herbs, cooking, and sustainable practices.

I’m the author of Natural Remedies for Kids and the owner and lead herbalist at EarthleyI hope you’ll join me on the journey to a free and healthy life!

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