Elf on the Shelf has done several holiday tours since its inception in 2005. However, Elf on the Shelf may have some long-ago ancestors that helped children keep behaviors in check.
Regardless of Elf on the Shelf's origin story, the Elf is here to stay. However, parents have options when bringing the Elf into their home. Let's look at the roots of Elf on the Shelf and develop new themes for these Elves to help our children reach their goals and build strong character traits.
Historical roots for Elf on the Shelf
Elves have often been connected with Santa Claus. They would report good and not-so-good deeds to Mr. Claus. The Danes have the nisse, gnome-like creatures who leave little treats for good deeds while providing an advent countdown until Christmas. The family’s nisse is moved around the house by all members, keeping watch on the family’s interactions.
Like the nisse, many cultures have similar mystical beings who help track good deeds, decrease destructive behaviors, and add to holiday festivities. The popular, modern Elf on the Shelf comes with “The Elf on the Shelf” book, written by the mother-daughter team, Carol V. Aebersold and Bell Chanda.
Criticism of Elf on the Shelf
Similar to the nisse, Elf on the Shelf follows the idea of focusing on the good but walks a fine line into prison guard status. For children who struggle with emotional regulation and self-control, Elf’s presence can become stressful times during the holiday season.
The watchful eye of Elf on the Shelf becomes a constant reminder of behavior difficulties and potential punishment. Many parents believe Elf on the Shelf is used to force children to become submissive and compliant. However, each family has the power to create their Elf on the Shelf character and foster and promote what is relevant to their family.
The Elf on the Shelf can be a powerful tool for promoting acts of kindness, following rules, and motivating children to continue with goals. Families can adapt the focus to extend learning opportunities and provide teachable moments.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our FREE Personal & Family Values. This printable provides a great opportunity for your family to explore and identify values that can help guide you and your children in making the right choices.
Ready to take Elf on the Shelf to new levels? Here are some new, growth mindset-centric themes for Elf on the Shelf.
Some new elves on the block:
1. Kindness Elf. Children awake to find Kindness Elf performing random acts of kindness. The elf put the dishes away or wiped down the counter in the bathroom. Maybe the elf can leave a favorite treat at the table for children to enjoy the next day. Actions, big and small, are highlighted with this elf.
2. Growth Mindset Elf. With the “Power of Yet," Growth Mindset Elf highlights when children are stepping out of their comfort zones. Have this elf celebrate new accomplishments and moments when children go out of their way to try. If your child was working on a puzzle and having difficulty but completed it, have the elf celebrating the completed puzzle. A soccer player who didn’t make the goal might feel disappointed, but finding the elf handing them their gear in the morning can be motivating.
3. Sensory Elf. Sensory integration is a powerful coping skill for lowering anxiety and stress. Children awake to find the elf playing with various sensory activities with information on how it is useful. Have children find the elf playing with playdough or putty, or maybe the elf is located in a bin of rice with toys and hidden items to find.
4. Critical Thinking Elf. This little guy is found solving puzzles, leaving them and other problem-solving activities for children. Children may find this elf solving a puzzle in a new Sudoku book or waiting to play a game of chess or checkers.
5. World Traveler Elf. This elf is found pointing to a spot on globes or maps, leaving clues about places for children to investigate. Incredibly fun for families doing ancestral research, the elf might be found pondering a recipe from the chosen country or giving a link to a story or folklore from a particular culture.
6. Artsy Elf. This elf is usually found with some form of artwork, mid-creation. Artsy Elf promotes creativity and introduces your child to new art mediums. Children may wake to find their elf showcasing new paintbrushes or oil pastels. The focus is to help provide new art modalities to children and expand their love of art.
7. Zen Elf. This elf promotes grounding and emotional regulation activities like yoga and breathing. Zen Elf loves hanging out outside, enjoying some morning yoga. Your child may find this elf wrapped inside a new yoga mat or perched on a meditation cushion. They might even provide children with yoga websites and fun meditations.
8. Culinary Elf. Children will find this elf in the kitchen or pantry with a simple recipe for the child to try out. For younger children, it may be offering instructions for age-appropriate prepping to help parents with dinner. Culinary Elf may introduce children to a new cooking or baking utensil like cake decorating tools or cookie cutters.
9. Adventure Elf. This elf provides new activities and adventures for children to try. This elf may provide scavenger hunts leading all around the backyard (or even the neighborhood, for older children). Adventure elf promotes trying new things and may give your child a book on hiking, bird watching, or a new sport.
10. Positivity Elf. This elf can be found at the site of a job well done. You might find him in an empty sink with a note thanking your child for doing the dishes without being asked. This elf helps shine a spotlight on the little things children do that make a significant impact.
Keep things fun
After choosing your Elf on the Shelf path, here are some things to remember to maintain the fun. Embrace natural consequences, and try not to use your elf as a way to increase punishments. Make sure children understand the rules and the reason for the elf. We want children to look forward to taking part, not dread participation. Keep shame and guilt out of the game.
Never allow the elf to become a point of contention or guilt. Instead, help the elf talk children through difficult moments. When your child experiences significant behaviors, Elf on the Shelf leaves a note about when they had a similar behavior and how they worked through it. The magic of the elf is parents having another team member to help promote a growth mindset. Have the elf be a voice for turning mistakes into magical moments for growth and learning.
No room for parent perfectionism
Parents can become overwhelmed, coming up with 24 days of elf scenarios to set up. Don't let it consume you. There is no rule demanding activity every day. It can be more exciting to see if your elf did something to draw attention. If it becomes a burden, re-evaluate the goals and activities. Simple is best. Don't focus on creating outlandish scenarios; focus on what you want your child to learn. Your family is as individual as your fingerprint, so don't compare your elf activities to others. Elves should have personalities and plans that are meaningful to your family.
Elf on the Shelf seems to garner more popularity every year. While the elf can be a promoter of joy, it can also bring frustration and annoyance. It's best to keep your family in mind and adapt to your family's individual needs. Consider the abilities of children with disabilities and other special needs to ensure an enjoyable experience. Changing up Elf on the Shelf can also provide a chance for parents to get creative and focus on your child's specific goals. Make your Elf on the Shelf a coach for your child — a cheerleader who advocates for them and helps them reach their potential.
Looking for a growth mindset resource to support your child? Our popular Big Life Journal - 2nd Edition (ages 7-10) helps children develop strong Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and growth mindset skills through inspiring stories, colorful illustrations, and engaging guided activities. In this beautifully illustrated journal, children learn how to believe in themselves, face challenges with confidence, and use mistakes as opportunities to grow!