Is your Elf on the Shelf yet?

If you haven’t heard of the Elf on the Shelf, chances are you aren’t a parent or your kids are too young to really get it. In fact, the only reason I know about it is due to my professional life as a behavior analyst working with families that have older children (my girls are too young). For those of you who don’t know, let me fill you in on this ingenious idea to keep your kids well-behaved throughout the holiday season.

Described as the “eyes and ears of Santa Claus”, you basically “adopt” an elf that sits as an observer in your home during the day and flies home to report to Santa each night. It also changes location in your home each day and can never be touched or the magic will be lost. Such a simple idea that can literally work miracles with some families when it comes to behavior management. In fact, many parents wish they could keep the Elf on the shelf all year!!! However that would go against the official rules that dictate the Elf must return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Dang the fine print! 

Elf on the Shelf press
So why does it work so well?

Simple: kids like toys–> Santa brings toys–> kids want to keep Santa happy by being good boys and girls. So how can we use this same logic to keep the magic alive all year? Simply replace the word Santa with mom or dad! As parents we easily forget that we really do hold the cards. We too can be as powerful as Santa Claus- no reindeer or elf required. Here are some simple ways to work your own magic:

Focus on the positive. When you were a kid do you remember wishing your parents would notice the good and not just the bad? The truth is that focusing on the positive will make for a more pleasant household with the added bonus of teaching your child what TO DO and not just what not to do. Even the official site for the Elf on the Shelf states that the Elf will report the child’s good deeds to Santa but no mention of any bad reports. Being positive 100% of the time is unrealistic, but try to strike a balance in your home and notice the good instead of the bad (or at least more often than the bad).

Limit the freebies. This is a biggie. To prepare kids for the real world, it’s our job as parents to teach them the connection between behavior and consequences. If Santa showed up each year with presents regardless of behavior, the Elf would be out of a job. If all things fun are always for free, what’s the point of being a good little boy or girl? Not to mention that most kids appreciate things more when they have to “work for it”. Most parents remember to do this for the big hitters such as a new cell phone or a trip to Disney, but even everyday pleasures like a trip to the park could be used to reward good behavior.

Think creatively and take advantage of the fun stuff you typically dish out “for free.” If a playdate at the park is on the schedule, think of a recent good deed to praise your child for and offer a visit to the park as a much deserved “reward.” If your evening schedule is crazy and you plan to swing by Chick-fil-A on your way home, why not let it double as a reward for that “star day” your child earned at school?

Provide a visual. One secret to the Elf’s power is the fact that children can actually see him “watching” every day. If fact, moving him to a new place each night motivates kids to literally look for him. Talk about an effective reminder! So take a hint from this and use visual aids as much as possible when creating any kind of behavior plan. It can be as simple as a basic behavior chart you pin on the fridge, or as fancy as an online tracking system or mobile application (yep, there’s an app for that).

The bottom line is that your child has a visual reminder to help keep their behavior on track. Tech-savvy parents should check out or Those interested in good old-fashioned behavior charts can go to or Several charts and kits are also available for purchase at local retail stores (or search “behavior chart” on Amazon).

What behavior techniques work for you?


Luanne is a Florida native and Gator girl who moved to Jacksonville for her first job and never left. She has a Masters degree in Behavior Analysis from the University of Florida and has provided parent training and behavioral services for children of all ages. Luanne’s “hands-on” parent training began in 2010 when she became a mother herself. She now has two daughters, ages 2 and 4. With a newfound respect for what parenting around the clock actually feels like, she now spends her time trying to practice what she’s been preaching about for so many years. When not busy being mom, she takes a “break” to help parents experiencing behavioral challenges. Her company Blueprints for Change , offers behavior management trainings and comprehensive behavioral services.


  1. LL, I love this! Really great ideas and well written. But A is not too young for the elf! O was not even 18 months last year and he LOVED looking for him every morning. Okay, true, he didn’t get the behavior aspect yet, but just finding him every day brought so much joy. Get one! You will not regret it.


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