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Catch Them Being Good: Elf on the Shelf Edition

By Mara Paradis, M.D.

During the holiday season, growing excitement and exhausting festivities can take a toll on a child’s behavior and a parent’s state-of-mind, but it is important to be consistent in regards to what is expected from both parents and chil​dren.

Praising children at appropriate times is one of the most important things a parent can do. It will nourish your child's mind and self-esteem. It will also reward you, as a parent, with good behavior from your child on a more consistent basis.

While holidays may lead to occasional chaos, they also open the door for unique teaching opportunities. For example: the Elf on the Shelf.

What is the Elf on the Shelf?

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Elf on the Shelf, it is a nationwide phenomenon that answers the age-old childhood question: How does Santa know if I have been good or bad?

A month or so before Christmas, the family elf journeys from the North Pole to supervise the home. He or she sits on the shelf (able to listen to and watch, but not talk to, the children), and every night he returns to the North Pole to give his daily report to Santa. When the children awake, they get to search the house for where the elf will be watching from for the day.

How can You Use Elf on the Shelf?

The Elf on the Shelf isn’t just a game for the children; it provides a holiday break from the norm for parents as well!

  • Reference the elf in your praises. Join in the holiday magic and tell your child how the elf told you that he or she caught your child sharing with a sibling, cleaning up after dinner, etc.
  • If your child is acting up, a calm reminder that the elf is watching may be enough to modify the behavior.
  • Have fun with how you set up the elf and where you hide him. There are some great ideas on Pinterest and blogs.

The Elf on the Shelf is a fun holiday tradition, but it is important that parents keep the rules for effective praise in mind. When praising your children:

  • Make sure that you are genuine. Children can see through false compliments, exaggerations and flattery. On the other hand, earning genuine praise makes children feel good.
  • When giving praise, make sure your children know exactly what they did that pleased you, so they can repeat the behavior.
  • Be sure to tell them why you think what they did was good and how it will benefit them and others.
  • Finally, make sure your child responds to your praise in a way that lets you know he or she understands why you are pleased with a particular action or behavior.

There are certain times where you may want to consider adding reward as a fifth step. Rewarding your child with a special privilege when you are especially pleased with his or her behavior or when an outstanding improvement has been made in a problem area will help to ensure your child will repeat the positive behavior.