Child Psychologists Issue Warning About ‘Elf On The Shelf’ And Its Effect On Kids

by Angela Andaloro

The holidays are all about tradition. Many families, especially those with young children, have incorporated the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ into their holiday traditions.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Elf on the Shelf is one of Santa’s elves, and he spies on children to see whether they belong on the naughty or nice list. The elf moves around the house, ready to catch unsuspecting children misbehaving so that he can report back to Santa. The tradition was created to encourage children to be on their best behavior during the holidays, and it is based on a 2004 book of the same name by Chanda Bell.

Fourteen years after the tradition first came into use, people are starting to take a different look at the idea of someone watching over your kids to inform Santa of their behavior.

PopSugar consulted child psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe about how the seemingly harmless tradition can actually do more harm than good, and what she suggests instead.

The Elf on the Shelf tradition has been around for almost 15 years now. Creator Chanda Bell took the idea from her own childhood, where an elf doll was moved around the house during the Christmas season.

The mischievous elf keeps an eye on children and how they’re behaving so that Santa knows whether they’ve been naughty or nice and so he can treat them accordingly come Christmas morning.

Many children love the fun of searching for the elf around the house each day in order to find out what crazy position he has put himself in, while lots of parents have mixed feelings about the tradition.

While some are absolutely excited to go all out and set up little scenes around the elf, others find it annoying to have to move and stage the elf every night after the kids are in bed, what if you forget one night!?

Child psychologist Dr. Vanessa Lapointe talked about about whether or not the practice is actually good for kids. “Parents have been trying frantically to control their children’s behavior by making some kind of positive outcome contingent on good behavior. Be good and you get a star on the star chart. Be good and Santa will bring you a present. The problem is that this creates fallout emotionally and neurologically.”

Dr. Lapointe warns that children know when parents are playing power games, and it can cause a disconnect and leave children feeling “played.” She notes, “Scientifically, we know that a child’s most essential need for healthy development is a deep and trusting relationship with their parent, so this is not something we should mess around with.”

A change in the way Elf on the Shelf works in your household can be positive for your children. Dr. Lapointe explains: “Have him be a friendly little soul who helps the child along. Maybe the elf is just for entertainment value. Maybe the elf actually takes helpful bits of info back to Santa rather than tattling on the child.”

Dr. Lapointe’s studied perspective is one of many that question the impact of the Elf on the Shelf on a child’s psychology. Parents have begun to chime in with their own thoughts.

Some parents think that the Christmas tradition is totally harmless and that other people are just overthinking the things that bring children joy during the Christmas season.

Many parents believe that social media’s pressures to make the Elf on the Shelf scenes increasingly complex cause a lot of the negative feelings toward the tradition and make it way too much work for parents who have less time to do those things.

While some parents admitted to being skeptical at first, many were eventually made into believers when they saw how much their kids loved the tradition and they experienced the happiness that ‘Elf on the Shelf’ gave their kids.

There are many parents who have just decided to do ‘Elf on the Shelf’ their own way. They don’t attach any specific requirements or pressures to it and allow it to just be fun for their kids.

At the end of the day, understandably, some parents just see the tradition as “fun” and want to continue the tradition each year because it is a festive bonding activity that is special for the holidays.

Whatever your feelings are about ‘Elf on the Shelf’, it continues to be a popular holiday tradition among families. It’s up to you to make the best decision on if and how to handle it with your own family.