Leading up to Christmas, I read a lot of posts on social media concerning whether or not to participate in the “Elf on the Shelf” craze. Personally, there is no Elf in our house. Although the principle of “Elf on the Shelf” does not necessarily follow the core beliefs of Positive Discipline, the primary reason why we do not have an Elf is that we are lazy.
Lazy may actually be the wrong word. Emotionally exhausted. Overwhelmed with balancing work and family life. And, simply zero mental capacity to be creative at the end of the day – seems more appropriate. Or rather, it is one less thing to add to the overflowing plate of parent life.
Yet so many parents feel this obligation to do what other parents are doing. Whether it is our of fear of disappointing their kids or guilt of not living up to this unrealistic expectation that we have set as parents – there is this immense pull to do things that everyone is doing no matter how stressed it leaves us.
I see this in so many areas of parenting. The obligation to throw a birthday party and invite everyone at the daycare or the obligation to attend every birthday party. There appears to be this mounting pressure because we feel bad about saying no. We then are stressed, our kids are stressed and no one seems happy.
So, what does this teach our children?
One of the elements that I love about Positive Discipline is that it is grounded in the idea of what life skills and characteristics is this teaching the child? Ultimately, this thought process has helped me with these difficult decisions when it is hard to say no. Setting limits, living with simplicity, putting family first, are the life skills and characteristics that I want my children to learn. While I do want my children to learn to put others before themselves, I do feel there are many ways to teach a child this without sacrificing sanity.
So, let’s return to discussing this Elf. Okay, I’ll admit it. Dolls terrify me and this may also be another reason for why you will not find one in our home. My grandmother gave me this handmade clown doll when I was a kid and I had to hide it deep in my closet because I was fairly certain it was going to come alive and eat me in the middle of the night. Regardless though of how I feel about the Elf's appearance, there are some positives -- the primary being connection.
I have several friends that get just as excited as their kids do for when their Elf magically appears. They get giddy thinking about all the creative ways they will display, “Peter” in the morning. They loved the process of naming the Elf with their children and love the faces their children have when they see the Elf in the morning. I mean really, what is wrong with that? In my opinion, this is amazing. Families that chose to focus on the “fun” of what the Elf provides is a great way to build connection with their children. It is when the Elf is used to control behavior, which is a tad bit concerning.
Now, I am sure there are parents out there who will say that the Elf does work to manage behavior and I am sure it does. I’ve seen it first-hand, with kids stopping exactly what they are doing as soon as their parents mouth the words, “Santa is watching!” But what message does this send to kids? Santa has to send a creepy Elf to my house because he doesn’t trust me to behave? And while, I have seen children correct behavior in that moment, I am never shocked to hear a parent soon repeat those words moments later in order to correct a different behavior. Utilizing the Elf to help manage poor behavior has the same response that often occurs with punishment. The punishment stops the behavior but then repeats again and again and again.
There is no right or wrong answer here when it comes to deciding if you are going to include the Elf in your holiday traditions. However, I would recommend focusing on the fun and the connection that it can bring to families vs. using it as a disciplinary tool to manage behavior. If you chose not to adopt this tradition, do not waste one breath feeling guilty about it -- your kids will probably thank you when their older.