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Elf on the Shelf: Friend or Foe?

Columnist Vanessa McManus examines the effectiveness of a growing holiday tradition in families with young children: Elf on the Shelf.

Meet Vinny the elf. He’s from the North End of the North Pole and has been visiting us since Thanksgiving. This is his first year staying with us and I must say, he has not been as popular as I had imagined. You see, Vinny can be a bit of a snitch tattling to Santa each night when the children have been naughty. He also reports to Santa on good behavior, but it seems the magic of the holiday season has been bringing out more “naughty” than “nice” behavior in my kids.

I’m assuming most parents with younger children are familiar with The Elf on the Shelf concept. But if you are not, then know this: each night you are responsible for placing the elf in a new location so that in the morning, the children can rush to search for him in a new spot. This is the spot he must stay in all day watching over the children until he goes to visit jolly old St. Nick again to give him the rundown on the events of the day.

From the get-go, Vinny’s introduction into our home was met with some skepticism. As I explained that the elf was one of Santa’s helpers who would fly to the North Pole each night to , my daughter looked like she was just not buying it.

“You mean like pretend though, right Mommy?” she asked as I talked more about the “magic” of the elf.

“You are not even FOUR!” I wanted to say. “Just go with it!” But I didn’t.

As the days passed, both my kids got excited to search for Vinny each morning. And with each new resting spot, he became more and more real to them.

On the morning Vinny was discovered dangling upside-down by his arms and legs from a chandelier, my daughter Lily declared, “I think he really MUST be magic!”

And that was when I knew I could start using Vinny for all he was worth. I mean a parent needs to get something out of this deal, right?

In return for the job of finding him a new spot to rest each night, I hoped he would help me out with a little bit of behavior modification. It seemed like a fair enough trade-off. After all, there have been several nights when I was just about to fall asleep that I’d be jarred awake with the sudden thought of “that darned elf.” Out of bed and down the stairs I’d go to find a creative new spot to plant him for the next morning.

The least he could do for me was to put a stop to a couple terrible two-year old  here and there, or maybe decrease the amount of whining heard in our house.

But while most parents report that the mere reminder that, “The elf is watching!” is enough to whip them into shape, this same utterance seems to drive my children into further hysterics.

Maybe it’s the thought that they are being caught or the reality of being put on that notorious “naughty list,” but more often than not, their bad behavior does not cease with the warning. Instead they glare at him out of the corner of their eyes, probably silently cursing his presence.

I am starting to wonder if this will be Vinny the Elf’s first and only stay at our house, but the truth is, I probably like the idea more than the kids.

While I did not grow up with a visiting elf, I am a sucker for creating new . Even if the most positive thing we get out of Vinny is a little excitement in the morning and a giggle when he is discovered, the idea remains fun and I hope, adds to the magical memories my children have of the holiday season.

As for the behavior modification, maybe my kids are still a bit too young to really understand the consequences of being reported to Santa. Here’s hoping next year Vinny will win me over as more than Santa’s helper, because mamas need some help too!

Vanessa McManus writes a column called "Memoirs from Motherhood: The Parenting Patch" for Canton Patch.

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