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Headache or helper, ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is here to stay

By Betsy Flagler
John Rosemond
Betsy Flagler, who lives in Davidson, writes the nationally syndicated Parent to Parent column.

At first it was cute. Now it’s all grown up.

The “Elf on the Shelf,” a book and toy created by Carol V. Aebersold and her daughter, Chanda A. Bell, started out as a quaint family tradition. Now the little red-and-white prankster has its own Facebook page, Wikipedia entry, personalized dishes, a holiday TV show and more.

The elf has hit the big time – it’s even a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.

Here’s how it works: A family “adopts” an elf and brings it home. The kids have naming rights and decide whether the elf is a boy or girl. The elf has the job of spying on the children by day, flying to the North Pole at night to report on their behavior, then returning to a new spot in the family’s home.

And therein lies the nuisance.

One mother of three says her kids love finding the elf every morning. They’ve named him Twinkles, but she and her husband have a naughtier name for him: “That damn elf.”

As much as the elf is a delight to millions of children on December mornings, parents have yet one more thing to remember each night – where to hide the elf. After getting snuggled down for much-needed sleep, parents pop awake, remembering what they’d forgotten.

“I have a love-hate relationship with the elf,” says a mother of two in Atlanta. “I love to see their excitement searching for him, but despise moving him around nightly, mostly because I forget until I’m already in bed.”

“I wish we had never started it,” says one mother of four. But it’s too late to back out now. All four of her children are young enough to believe in Santa.

From an already-stressed teacher and mom of two girls: “I am afraid to purchase one and start the tradition. I feel like I can’t be responsible for one more thing.”

Other love-hate comments from an informal Facebook poll:

• “My son loves him, but I swear every night I get tucked in bed, then realize I didn’t move that darn elf. Out of bed I go.”

• “Ermie, our elf, is a pain. Like others, I forget to move him and wake up in panic mode. But the kids love searching for him every morning. And the ‘Ermie is watching’ threat really works.”

The plus sides of bribery and creative family fun:

• “I love Elf on the Shelf. It’s a great tool for bribery and the kids love to see what adventure he got into overnight.”

• “Our family loves it. My husband and I have fun putting them in different places, and being creative with it. Sometimes the elves are lazy, then my girls will come up with reasons why they haven’t moved.”

Indifference inspires backup plans:

• “I think it’s a good idea to have a set list of reasons why your elf may stay in the same spot. Casually discuss them with your child before the elf arrives. The excuses can range from laziness to being too horrified of their bad behavior to fly. This will save you from waking in a panic to move the elf at 4 a.m.”

• “We set very low expectations. Our very lazy elf, Cookie, is sometimes just too tired to fly back to the North Pole at night and decides he wants to stay in the same place for a few days.”

Some parents go all out, not just moving their elves each night, but helping Santa’s little spies create some mischief of their own. One popular scenario: an elf making snow angels in flour on the kitchen counter.

Out of ideas for hiding places and pranks? Go to Pinterest, of course. Need something more to buy? There are elf outfits and ornaments, an Advent calendar, games and a DVD.

In October, the elf that made its debut in 2005 gained a new birthday tradition: a sequel to the first book, complete with a new tiny cupcake hat to add to his accessories.

To remember to move the elf each night, the authors suggest putting a sticky note on your mirror as a reminder. And one more thing: Register your family’s elf at elfontheshelf.com to receive an adoption certificate and a letter from Santa.

Email Betsy Flagler at p2ptips@attn.net.

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