Do you like the Elf on the Shelf idea but not all the work it takes?

Are you not thrilled with some of the spying concepts implied with the Elf visit?

Are you looking for a way to incorporate magic, kindness, and fun to your child’s holiday?

If you answered YES to any of those questions, keep reading!

If you browse Pinterest you may get caught up in (and perhaps overwhelmed with) all the amazing, intricate, time-consuming (albeit cute) Elf ideas. But you don’t have to be fancy, creative, or elaborate to still enjoy the Elf on the Shelf tradition. It’s OK to change the “rules” to fit your parenting style, family values, available time, or energy level.

It’s your elf, you can do it your way!

Here are a few alternative ideas to help reduce the stress and increase the fun, along with some photos of what our Elf has been up to! (If you are not sure what is going on in a photo, just ask and I will explain.)

Less Stress for Adults

1. Shorter Elf visit. If the thought of having to think of new Elf ideas every day for 24+ days is too stressful, then change the rules. It’s your Elf! I think the Elf is supposed to arrive right after Thanksgiving. That’s just too many days of ideas for me. Our family directs a trail running race which is always in early December so that’s a very busy time for us. Thus, our Elf does not arrive until that race is over, usually around December 7 or so. BAM! I just got rid of 7+ days of Elf ideas!

2. Make an Elf schedule. List the days you will be moving the Elf and then write down ideas ahead of time, listing one idea per day (or however often you move your Elf). So when it’s 10:00 at night and you are heading to bed and JUST remembered you needed to set up the next situation, you can just refer to your list. No mental power needed.

3. Make it easy on yourself. If you choose a few more elaborate Elf situations because they are fun for you to set up, choose easy Elf situations for a few days after that as a break. I consider “easy” situations ones where you just place him somewhere: on a light, on the fireplace. No prep, no fuss, no stress! It’s OK to simply put him in a new place; not all the ideas have to be “creative” or have some grand meaning.

4. Skip a year. If things are just too busy, feel free to skip the Elf visit for a year. If you think your kids would remember your Elf, you can simply have a letter arrive one day explaining why the Elf won’t be there that year. (At a conference, on vacation, North Pole cutbacks, etc.) A friend did this when she was so busy with a new baby. It’s your Elf, your rules!

5. Skip a day. This is a good technique when you forget one night, or when you are too busy and need a break. Just leave a note explaining the situation. My kids like the notes that their Elf leaves them.


Less Stress for Kids

6. No spying. Although the story goes that the Elf watches the child’s behavior and reports back to Santa every night, the spying and the “good or bad” components don’t sit well with me.  As a parent who is trying to move towards more positive parenting, I don’t want my kids to think that they are bad even if their behavior isn’t the best. They are not their behavior. I don’t want them to behave well just for the promise of a material reward. So it was made clear to our children that our Elf was visiting for the sole purpose of having fun, being silly, playing games, and spreading Christmas spirit. After all, Santa knows that all kids are good.

Incorporate Family Values and Interests

7. Avoid Elf “Misbehavior”. Despite all the funny ideas on Pinterest, our Elf does not do anything that I wouldn’t want my kids doing (with a few exceptions). He doesn’t trash things, break things, draw where he shouldn’t, or get into things he shouldn’t. If he makes a mess, he sets a good example and cleans up after himself.

8. Elf tries what family likes. Dad likes to run? Elf tries on his running shoes. Mom likes fraps? Elf is hugging one in the fridge. Son likes Legos? Elf is playing with them.


More Kindness

9. Welcome letter that invites acts of kindness. When our Elf arrives, his first location is the tree and he’s brings a note. (See the top photo.) Last year the note asked the kids to help create Christmas Magic by doing kind things, such as sharing with a friend, smiling and saying hello to someone new, bringing food to a food bank, etc. He even left a paper tree and paper ornaments and each time they did an act of kindness they could write it on the ornament and put it on the tree. When the tree was full, that would mean lots of magic was created.

10. The Elf performs acts of kindness. On several of the nights our Elf performed acts of kindness for members of our family. One night he picked up our son’s toys for him (and left a note saying he did so). One night he did a task for me (I think it was stuffing our Christmas card envelopes) and left a note saying he did that. My hope is to inspire helpfulness in my kids.


More Magic and Fun

11. Have fun and play games. Most of our Elf’s situations involves him playing games or having fun. I focus on the magic; what will my son or daughter find amusing, charming, or silly? I love their reactions when they find our Elf, so that’s my goal when creating situations; not how elaborate or how creative they can be. What will make them giggle?

  • Elf with their current favorite toy or activity
  • Elf hanging upside down
  • Elf in the fridge and pantry

12. Communicate with the Elf. Our Elf periodically leaves notes or letters to our kids, and they love this! My son is old enough to write and I encouraged him to ask our Elf a question – and the Elf writes back the next night. This writing back and forth is very magical to our son! One time our Elf was found drawing a picture with some crayons and invited our son to draw also. So our son added a little drawing and the next night the Elf commented on his drawing and drew some more. They were going back and forth!

13. Spread Christmas Spirit. One of my favorite (and easy) ideas was simply taping the Elf in our car with a Christmas CD already in the CD player. When we got in the car to go to school, he saw the Elf and the Christmas music “just started playing”. 😉 He talked about that for quite awhile! Other easy ideas include simply putting the Elf in a stocking, in the tree, on a railing, or in any other Christmas-themed position.


Make Your Own Elf Characteristics

It may help you to make a short list of what you want your Elf tradition to be like. Mine looked like this:

Our Elf “Snapper”

  • likes to have fun and play games
  • spreads Christmas spirit
  • performs random acts of  kindness
  • encourages and inspires
  • sets a good example

Your Turn

If you would like more ideas for redefining or reinventing your Elf, here are a couple articles that inspired me:

What are your thoughts? How have you made this new Elf on the Shelf tradition your own? Leave a comment and share, I’d love to hear from you!

Wendy –

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