Five Reasons why I Hate Elf on the Shelf

Here are the five top reasons why we never have, and never will, have a magical elf in our house at Christmas time:

  1. The Big Brother element

Using Christmas as a behaviour modification tool is fraught with potential problems. Research has shown the long-term consequences of using rewards (and lack of them) as a form of discipline. Not only are they largely ineffective, in the long term anyway, they can also really undermine the chances of the child repeating the ‘positive’ behaviour again without either the same or a better reward.

Elves that report back to Santa, or come with reward stickers may create short term compliance over the run up to Christmas, but there is a very real chance that parents can be faced with problems in the new year when the elf and the threat of losing presents is no longer around.


  1. The Hypocrisy

Am I the only one who finds the idea of ‘a naughty elf’ who reports back naughty behaviour from children to Santa totally hypocritical, or at the very least incredibly confusing?

It’s OK for the elf to create all sorts of mayhem, break house rules, create a mess, get into things that they shouldn’t, but should the child do these things they would most likely be in trouble. What sort of a messed up mixed message is that?!  On the one hand parents send the message “you’re being watched, you do anything wrong and Santa won’t give you a present” and on the other “it’s OK for the elf to do everything that you’re not allowed to though, when the elf does it it’s ‘cute and funny’, but don’t you dare do it or we’ll tell Santa on you!”. Not reporting back to Santa doesn’t make this any better either, if you wouldn’t like your children to copy the behaviour of the elf, then don’t set it up as a role model for them!


  1. Things that Go Bump in the Night

How many children fear monsters, ghosts and other things that go ‘bump in the night’? Parents spend hours reassuring children that they don’t really exist, that they’re safe, that nothing is going to creep into their bedroom at night. Then along comes a freaky little doll that becomes possessed – but only at night when the child is asleep. The very thing that we try to reassure children *doesn’t* happen! Then we worry why they’re so freaked out the next time they have a nightmare. Harmless fun? I don’t think so! These things either exist or they don’t, mixed messages, just like the hypocrisy above, are confusing for children. It doesn’t matter if the elf is ‘kind’, or the naughty variety mentioned previously, they still come to life at night and do things when the child is asleep.


  1. Commercialism

Every few years a new parenting ‘must have’ comes along. These toys, sleep props, books and nursery items quickly develop a cult like following. Parents can quickly get sucked in, often feeling left out, or rather worrying that their children are left out if they don’t jump on the trendy train. The truth is children miss out on nothing without an elf. Christmas is no less magical without them. Expensive products marketed to create Christmas magic don’t make Christmas magical, what makes it magical is the spirit, the love, the family, the hygge.

We underestimate children if we think that they need us to create magical objects to inject this spirit into the holidays. When I was a child the magic of Christmas came from making my parents maga card with a whole tube of silver glitter, a piece of tinsel wrapped round my head and tinfoil covered cardboard wings on my back in the school nativity, watching my mum set light to the Christmas pudding in wonder and hanging homemade decorations on the tree.  When did it get so complicated? We underestimate ourselves and the simple power of making peppermint creams or cards together, watching a Christmas movie, or reading a festive book with our children. These things are the real magic, magic is not expensive, magic is not a retro styled, expensive, smug looking spying elf. It is so much more simple than that. Everytime we pin our Christmas spirit hopes on a product we devalue what we, as parents, give to our children.


  1. The Pressure.

The run up to Christmas is busy enough as it is for parents, do you *really* need to add another task to your list? Reaching the end of the day exhausted, ready to climb into bed only to realise “oh no! I forgot to do something with the elf!”. Remembering isn’t enough though, on no, not when your friend is outdoing you on their daily ‘elf escapades’ on social media. Do you really want to feel like an inadequate elf organiser? Isn’t it be better to spend that time chilling out and trying to enjoy some Christmas spirit yourself?


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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