Not a fan of that creepy little elf on the shelf, me neither! It just doesn’t feel right to taunt my kids into being well behaved for one calendar month each year under the guise of tradition. There is no real learning or life lessons happening when you feel under pressure to please your parents in hopes of a reward. Not to mention, it takes a lot of time to plan all those clever ways to move this object every night.
We decided not to participate in this surveillance system as a tradition in our house while my twins were young. My kids began asking questions like, “why can the elf do it, but I can’t?” I mean, they aren’t wrong. And I don’t have a good reason why we should normalize 3-year-olds laughing at naughty things like tossing toilet paper over the Christmas tree or fleeing the scene of a mini elf-sized crime. It sends mixed messages. But my kids also want an elf experience like they hear everyone talking about. So, we chose to introduce, “Ho-Ho” and “Snowman” – our kindness elves. The best part is the elves never move. They magically turn into elves and teleport to the North Pole to bring back a new kindness mission every night, then return to being decorations we enjoy.
This entire tradition began as a happy coincidence when I found an adorable wooden count down calendar at a thrift store. It has individual doors to hide fun treats behind. As we count down to Christmas the kids open each door to find a new treat. After the first year, I realized my kids really do not need the extra dose of sugar on top of the daily dose of sugar from school parties and cookies we bake together. That’s when I started looking for non-edible things to fill our calendar boxes with. As I began Googling ideas, I stumbled upon the tradition of Kindness Elves. I loved the idea of the kindness suggestion turning into an activity, turning into a give back. And it included the elf experience my kids wanted. So, I ran out and picked up a couple of elves on sale at our craft store and got to work on crafting their back story.
On the day of their arrival, it was a big production. The nameless elves arrived in an elf themed box, along with a fairy door and a letter introducing them. The letter explained the magic of the box they found hidden in the thrift store waiting for just the right children to come along. The elves asked for a name, explained the rules of magic (no touching, where to place the fairy door for them to use, etc.). My kids loved the thrill of finding a new activity every day! They would run out to the countdown box to get their new mission for the day before leaving for school.
Download your free Kindness Countdown Coupons here.
The missions are not used for behavior management, the missions are used to create playful, teachable moments. When kids are fully immersed in the act of kindness, the lesson will stay with them much longer than observing some silly shenanigans. It sends a clear message that creates lasting habits through hands on fun.
That was 6 years ago.
My kids are pre-teens who no longer believe in Santa, but still believe in kindness. They now create their own random acts of kindness without prompting. They remember to hold the door for others and are eager to volunteer or include others who may feel left out. I am not a parenting expert by any means, but I do know it takes weeks for new habits to form and years of repetition for lessons to stick with kids. I also think, these kindness missions made learning fun which gave my kids something to look forward to each year.
I honestly think the elf shenanigans are funny, through an adult lens. But not through the lens of a developing toddler brain. I love the silliness it can create, but it is hardly a teaching tool for kid behavior. If you do the elf on the shelf in your house and it works for you that’s great. I am just sharing these little kindness elves for anyone looking for an alternative.
I have included free printable kindness coupons for you to use! I’ve even included a blank page you can fill in with your own missions. This makes it super easy and very minimal planning. You don’t even need to own an elf! These missions can arrive in any fashion that is comfortable for you. Kids can pick one a day. You can leave them on the tree, or in a special envelop to open together. It just works for my family to have the Kindness elves magically deliver them.
In all our years with the kindness elves, I’ve never awakened at 3:00 a.m. horror stricken because I forgot to move the elves. I simply place the coupon behind that little door first thing in the morning before the kids get up to start their day. We all sleep better without that prying little elf watching us. And who doesn’t love getting some good sleep?
Tell me in the comments below how you teach kindness at home?
Related reading: 12 Days of Service