The Inherent Dangers of Elf on the Shelf


It started in 2005, not really the “Tradition” that Bing Crosby is.

If you’re like me, then the holidays are a time of elaborate decoration, gift-giving and the hidden look of disappointment in your parents’ eyes as they come to terms with another season that you’ve stood by your decision not to have children. Luckily for my parents, my younger sister has two little boys that love Christmas! My parents adore them and my sister and her husband are heavily involved in their lives and forming nostalgic memories for them to look back fondly on.  One of the “traditions” that my sister introduced is the Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.

For those of you who aren’t in the know as I was not, Elf on the Shelf is a posable elf doll and accompanying book that outlines what this little elf means for the children of the house. The book goes on to tell the children to whom it is read that EOTS is Santa’s eyes and ears. EOTS will position himself in a spot in the house (hence the ability to wrap his spindly little arms and legs around stuff in the house) and, if he spots you being good, then he sprints up to the North Pole during the night, lets the Big Man know that you should be on the Nice List and then hauls ass back to your house to situate himself in a different spot to begin his silent, spying vigil anew. The main rule in the book is that children MUST keep their damn, stinking paws off the elf. They can’t touch the elf or his magic might disappear and he would be driven to life on the streets, most likely killed by an outdoor cat who would first bat him around as a plaything, further removing his magic and ultimately his will to live.

It is a terrible idea to buy this for your children. Here’s the three reasons why.

#3:  You’re asking for your child to develop a complex.

So, you’ve decided that an inanimate bendy doll is the best way to manage your child’s behavior through the promise of rewards. Now your child always has one eye on the smiling little elf that you’ve sat on the china hutch or cleverly hung from the chandelier. He or she does his or her best to always behave, not throw a fit, play nice with their sibling, share their toys and wakes up every morning, anxiously running to the spot where the elf was monitoring the night before. Relieved, the child sees that the elf has run up North and reported their good behavior! Now the child must make it their life’s priority to search out where you’ve devilishly hidden the elf. Your sweet, behaving child cannot rest until they learn where the elf is so that they can make sure that it is in a different spot tomorrow and the game can begin again.

If this were an adult, we would label it extreme paranoia or obsessive compulsive disorder. Do you really want your child to become frantic about finding and pleasing a doll?  And, let’s not forget that you have to be obsessive about this as well, because this is the main reinforcement that your child has now to behave.  However, it should be pointed out that…

 #2: You’re encouraging bad behavior.

If you’re diligent and move the elf every night, you can rest assured that your beautiful snowflake is encouraged to be good and listen to mommy and daddy. But, let’s say that the child does something naughty and he knows it.  He knows he’s been bad, but the next morning, the elf has moved!  The elf didn’t see!  What else can he get away with?  Or, does this mean that what the child considered to be “bad” is not bad at all?  Maybe it is condoned, nay, encouraged by Santa! Eh-gads, man!  Do you know what this means?  We can do anything we want!  As long as the elf moves, then it doesn’t matter what Mom and Dad say!

So, maybe they won’t take it that far, but let’s say that your child does misbehave and the elf doesn’t move. How long can you hold out this game?  Really?  Are you going to keep leaving the elf where it is until the child turns around and changes their ways?  If so, are you willing to deprive them of gifts at Christmas or are you going to continue just as you would have even if you hadn’t had the elf in the first place? 

And what if your child really does start behaving if the elf stays where he is? They are good all day, but it was a long day at work, you’re tired, maybe had a glass of wine after putting junior to bed and the next morning, the stream of questions reminds you of something you didn’t do.

#1 You’re going to forget.

Back to my sister.  This is her experience with Elf on the Shelf in her actual Facebook feed.


Two days.  She lasted TWO DAYS!  My sister’s no dummy and she lasted two days. This means that she got Elf on the Shelf, showed her boys, moved it once and then forgot. 

Why set yourself up for failure?  Just give the kids some presents, sing some songs and eat a bunch of food with family.  Leave the Elf on the Shelf.


94 thoughts on “The Inherent Dangers of Elf on the Shelf

  1. Reblogged this on K.Smith and commented:
    I couldn’t agree more with this theory and from my own childhood experiences with porcelain dolls, It’s creepy. Just creepy. No one want’s this thing watching their every move.

  2. I completely agree! People get a little over the top with all these extras for holidays. It seems cute, but then becomes more stressful than fun. Simpler is better.

  3. I think the Elf is creepy. My daughter thinks he’s cool. Her friends have one and she was wayyyyy to psyched about it. We don’t use him as a behavior tool–just, let’s see where he moved to, what he’s up to kind of thing. We don’t bribe for behavior. Bump that. That’s like yelling “Santa’s watching” everytime your kid misbehaves in between November and Christmas…so lame.

    My husband authorized the Elf purchase, as I stood by my opinion that it’s a creepy doll and is going to murder us all in our sleep. 🙂

  4. The slant is pretty good. But good deeds should be internal and give a good feeling inside just for doing them. Rewards should not be needed if there is a true good deed.

  5. Reblogged this on It's all kids stuff. and commented:
    I feel that there’s something seriously wrong with using this doll as a sort of surveillance measure for kids. Why don’t we try talking to them instead of bribing/threatening/pleading? They can use their words, just like we can (well, once they know how to talk)

  6. I agree with Jennpower the entire thing is sort of strange. And I don’t know at what ages it is really used for either. I know I would have never thought this was real when I was little. I wasn’t even sure what it was about until I read this. I think it is much better to always use yourself as a parenting tool with taking with your children than using other things.

  7. Why all the lies? You’re looking at elf on the shelf completely wrong. If I had EOTS I’d have him control the kids actions for the good. Like if they made their bed I’d wreck it and put EOTS sitting on the bedside locker with a note-Try harder slacker! Or if they wake up early to watch tv I’d have EOTS waiting with a note- Wake Dad and you can kiss your presents goodbye. Cause if you’re going to be deceitful you may as well make it work for you!

  8. I totally agree that the Elf is just creepy..spying on kids with his beady eyes. Elves have nothing to do with the real meaning behind Christmas anyway!

  9. Yet another reason I enjoy Hanukkah. Way less stress and extra stuff involved. Just a bunch of candles and fried food. Who doesn’t like that? 🙂 Enjoyed your piece. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

  10. Hysterical! We sell these big time where I work and I confess, I wished it were around when my kid was little — I loved being able to pull out the Santa is watching card to squelch bad behavior — how much more effective if I’d had this creepy little spy.

  11. Yes, so creepy. I guess I just have a hard time lying to my kids because when my son said something to his younger brother about Santa I just blurted out, “Santa’s not real. He’s just for fun.” He then looked at me with a look of such confusion, like, why do you adults come up with this stuff?

  12. I’m actually not sure if you’re joking with this post or not. It seems like a cute little game to me. Kids will always look for a way to get around behaving well, this mostly seems fun for the parents to move around

  13. My niece and nephew really enjoy their Elf. I think their parents just have the perspective that it’s a fun way to build up the excitement about the Christmas season. If I had kids and wanted to do this, I would worry about forgetting. I have enough trouble remembering our St. Nick’s tradition on Dec. 6.

  14. Reblogged this on Totally win at love and commented:
    I agree and last year wrote a short story showing the horrors of the elf. Here’s an except: “Sofia’s tiny body shudders as she is startled by a shadow lurking in the corner on the right hand side of the fireplace ledge. Following her gaze I see a motionless form no taller than little Sofia. Instinctively she turns her frightened face to me and whispers “Help me, please help me. That mean elf watches me. Last night he was in the hall, but this morning he’s in the living room.” Sofia’s pleading finds no assistance from me. She turns to bravely face the elf alone. His glass eyes stare straight ahead, sparkling in their reflection of the blue and gold Christmas lights.

  15. My son just got one for his birthday, and we have been pretty good at moving him around. I mean the whole “spying” thing doesn’t bother me, we sing songs telling our children Santa watches them all the time which is creepy all on its own. However the elf FREAKS me out, I feel like it’s eyes follow me everywhere. I give it this year and next year he wont even know it exists.

  16. My kids are terrified of this little creature. Even the jingle they play in Target is creepy. “Elf on a shelf is watching you, what you say, what you do…” Holy Stalker.

  17. My mother-in-law is making me do this. Thanks for the reminder for day 3 change around. Small apartment…. The tree will work. My daughter is a good girl so I don’t threaten her. Although it kind of scares me when she talks to it. I used to be terrified by the fact that Santa could see me when I was sleeping and awake and in the shower.

  18. I do not celebrate Christmas, however I do share your sentiments completely. There are better and more effective methods to nurture long-term positive behaviour in our children. And congratulations on being freshly pressed!

  19. Way back in the day my folks just reminded me and my sisters “The elves are watching!” They got a lot of mileage out of that … from Thanksgiving to Christmas day. We would have loved elf of a shelf!

  20. I have been on the fence about purchasing the Elf…. Leaning towards not. It’s the peer pressure that’s getting to me, my kids’ peers that is. You’ve made some good points here and I concur!

  21. I liked the idea of making gifts for neighbors, leaving treats for Santa (because he has worked so hard), and always leave carrots and oats for the reindeer outside. My nephew loves to see all that his kindness was appreciated by the neighbors, Santa, and reindeer( Especially if the reindeer make a big mess in the yard!)!

  22. Depends on the child and how the concept of the Elf is executed. It’s working a treat for my kids, and when I say kids, yes they are only kids, they still believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny – however they don’t believe in a religion!

  23. I agree as well. But then, I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the whole myth of Santa in general. How have lies and deceit become our ideal of childhood innocence?

  24. THANK YOU for explaining this ridiculous “tradition.” A couple of my friends do this and I had no clue why they kept taking so many pictures of creepy elves in their homes. Ugh.

  25. My wife brought home “Elf on a Shelf” a few days ago. Both our little girls, ages 3 and 5 are having fun waking up each morning looking around to see where the Elf is. Some of you folks sound like its bad parenting bringing the little guy into your homes. Seems a little odd considering you have no problem with a fat guy in a red suit landing his flying reindeer on your roofs and committing an act of breaking and entering to deliver toys to your kids. We welcome the elf and we do not force our kids to sit on the creepy fat guys lap once a year. Merry Christmas and congrats on winning the FP lottery

  26. Perhaps…this is being taken a bit too seriously.
    What is supposed to be a playful Christmas activity seems to be causing more stress for the parents than for the children.

  27. Thank you. I had no idea what it involved. Maybe the kids can get a Grandma-on-the-shelf and see how their parents like having their mother or mother-in-law watching over them all the time. 🙂

  28. I enjoyed your post and had a good laugh. I know that there are many parents out there who have a great time using the elf as an activity in their house, which is fine. In my house, I don’t think it would work the same, which is why I agree with you for personal reasons. My family has enough *real* problems; we don’t need to introduce new paranoia and confusion about discipline during our favorite time of year, when we should be enjoying each other’s company. Call me selfish, but I prefer to remain the figure that instills fear in my household, not some weird little doll. My kids are still afraid that Jesus hides in their closet and most years won’t go near Santa without major waterworks, so you can see why an elf just isn’t a good idea for us. Anyway, I liked the post, but I can also see why my friends have such a good time in their homes with the elf — their Facebook posts are pretty clever. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  29. Reblogged this on My Infinite Balance and commented:
    What a timely post for Christmas…thank goodness I’ve never picked this book up for my kids. In fact my children don’t believe in Santa at all. My youngest was so traumatised by the thought of a strange man coming into your house whilst sleeping at night and really I don’t blame her when we are trying to teach them stranger danger. This is a great article worth a cuppa and a read.

  30. I never read blogs much, I only have mine to empty out my too filled head… aside from that, I always thought that Elf on the Shelf thing was the stupidest ingenious creation. I hate it. It really is just plain creepy, but someone is making some serious money from it. It’s as stupid as the pickle on the tree. Ah, now there’s a blog post… describing two little boys tearing apart my Christmas tree one morning looking for a stupid pickle… ah God Bless us, everyone.

  31. First off the elf on the shelf is a game. My kids know it, I know it, they were with me when I picked it up and discussed it with them. It is used as a TOY. Granted a toy they aren’t supposed to touch, but if you’ve looked closely he is used as a toy. My boys get a laugh every morning when the little turd pops up somewhere or is found doing something crazy funny.

    Secondly you bet your butts my children are vastly more terrified of me than of an inanimate elf. When they do something wrong the elf does not correct them, I do. The elf is here 24 days of the year, good old mommy and daddy are here 24/7/365.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, my boys see us move the elf. No they don’t see us position him, but they see us take him from the table every morning, or the stairs, or their lunch boxes, and put him away somewhere where he won’t be touched. aka in a cabinet. The “elf” is not watching them.

    EVERYONE knows its a game. My boys do NOT believe he actually high tails it to the north pole. He is NOT a tattling little guardian angel. Christmas time doesn’t roll by and poof all of a sudden our authority is gone.

    You take this too extreme and I do not agree with this posting at all. Don’t blame bad parenting skills on a toy/game.

    You essentially say in this article its completely evil and gives your children complexes… oh wait, that’s society in general. How your kid turns out is completely based off of an elf that makes an appearance 24 days of the year according to the author. The way she put it, Santa should also be left on the shelf because he essentially serves the same purpose, but gives gifts out one day a year. (if your kids are terrified that the elf is going to tattle on them, then you are doing this completely wrong!) Now if they are terrified of it because it looks creepy… well I can understand that one.

    The author simply needs to understand the concept of having fun with kids. Its not been about the elf actually tattling on the kids, its always been about finding ways to get the bugger in funny situations that make the kids laugh every morning when they wake up.

    I’m thinking the author needs to have someone send her a grinchified elf on the shelf because her/his judgmental tone makes me want to slap them around with some Christmas spirit.

  32. LOL I say it’s for overachieving parents. Though, we have one. Ours isn’t to get the kids to behave but just more fun and magic. But as I wrote once, that little Mofo is a creepy stalker doll… and a nark too. Bastard.


  33. The thing is just creepy. It apparently isn’t enough to just say be good, Santa knows if you are naughty or nice…why do we have to drag that…that…that demonic doll into Christmas?! If I was a kid and my parents got that thing (my mom actually loves me and wouldn’t want to scar me for life) I would have thrown that thing in the fire or outside. Just get him away before he murders us all. What happened to kids just behaving without being stalked and tattled on by a doll made of pure evil? At least there is a cheaper and way cute reindeer version that won’t scar children.

  34. I agree Elfo is a Creepo. I had never seen one of these evil looking dolls until a few days ago when they started popping up on FB. Ha Ha funny post!

  35. Good, now I have reasons to justify why that creepy little doll will never exist in my home, no matter how many times my mother-in-law claims it’s a wonderful thing.

  36. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 60: I Think We’ve Made The Wrong Decision | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  37. Thanks for clearing that up. I have two friends posting him all over facebook and while I assumed that he was supposed to encourage good behavior, I didn’t ask. It seemed as though I had missed the question part of the conversation.

  38. We received one of these as a gift last year for our son, who at the time was SEVEN MONTHS OLD. He doesn’t even understand what a holiday is, nevermind why we have a tree in our living room or boxes underneath. I despise the entire idea of the elf. So great, you get your kids to “behave” for a month. What about the rest of the year? There is something wrong with bribing your kids to get them off your back while you shop and bake and socialize. It makes me so crazy. I saw on my FB feed two children with chemical cleaners scrubbing cabinets and a stove top. Really? Is this the way our kids should be raised? Cleaning because a doll is watching? Listening or else Santa won’t bring them presents, when in fact they will still get those presents? I could go on and on…Love that you wrote about this.

  39. Holy cynicism Batman, let me offer an alternative:

    I started Elf on a Shelf last year with my kids (then 2, 4, 6), and they loved, loved, loved it. Every morning they would wake up, frantically searching throughout the house for their elf, who they lovingly named Jerry. They didn’t focus on the creepy aspect of it, nor did they cower in fear at the thought of a tiny elf recording their behavior for Santa…

    No. For them, it was a bit of magic to kick off each and every day leading up to Christmas. This year was no different. Last week I awoke to a stampede of children busting into to my bedroom to announce Jerry’s triumphant return. Anything that makes my kids that happy, that excited, is ok in my book.

  40. LOL this is fantastic! I don’t have any children and didn’t really understand the whole story when I saw it on my Facebook newsfeed. So what do you think happens to the children when the parents pose the elf doing something horrible? ie. silly string on the tv, or cereal spilled all over the counter?

  41. This is one of the weirdest things of which I’ve heard in a long time. It sounds crazy, but maybe it’s better to demand good and respectful all year round instead of having to bear down on that “he sees you when you’re sleeping” BS–and the idea that an inanimate elf springs to life at night and–it’s just too damned Chucky for me.

  42. Reblogged this on Old Road Apples and commented:
    December 16, 2013 at 4:46 am

    This is one of the weirdest things of which I’ve heard in a long time. It sounds crazy, but maybe it’s better to demand good and respectful all year round instead of having to bear down on that “he sees you when you’re sleeping” BS–and the idea that an inanimate elf springs to life at night and–it’s just too damned Chucky for me.

  43. It’s funny that I came across this Elf on the Shelf post because I recently wrote an article about it on the local newspaper. I will post it on my blog when it comes out this Friday so please make sure to check it out!

  44. I think you may be taking the wrong things from this game. If my 3 year old develops a complex about someone watching her, it’s not gonna be from the elf but from me and her mother since we’re with her all day. I see nothing wrong with perpetuating another part of the Santa myth. She believes in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Rudolf, Frosty, etc. She’s having fun with it right now, and when she gets older she’ll realize it’s not real, just like all the other little creatures. It’s a fun little game for the kids, nothing more.

  45. It sounds like Mark Lopez has the right idea. This is what a friend of mine does with her 5 year old daughter. They named it and she just plays hide and seek with it basically. I didn’t know about the parenting/discipline aspect of it. If my kids were still little, I would just ignore that part of it, too.

  46. I agree he is creepy. In fact when my kids asked why we didn’t have an elf on the shelf, I told them because he is creepy and I am afraid of him. (I left out the part about him killing us in our sleep, didn’t want them to have nightmares.)

  47. Thank you for explaining Elf on the Shelf! I live overseas and haven’t kept up on this trend….nor will I. It would creep out my kids and, worse than that, compromise their trust.
    I enjoy your colorful take on it. Cracked me up!

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