14 Ways we made Elf on the Shelf work for our family

How to use Elf on the Shelf for fun plus ideas for poses and a free printable Santa letter!

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My husband and I were originally resistant to Elf on the Shelf. When our oldest child was in preschool, she loved sharing the antics the school elf got into. She loved seeing what the elf was up to each day and wanted one for home.

The next Christmas season, we had a Kindness Elf show up who was plush. I loved the idea of a Kindness Elf that comes and gives the kids ideas of nice things to do throughout the holiday season. Our Kindness Elf was also OK to touch since he was a bit different. (And our youngest was a toddler!)

However, by the next Christmas season, our daughter was so looking forward to a naughty elf that she decided to write Santa a letter about how she appreciated the Kindness Elf but hoped he could go to someone else so she could have a fun elf.

That Christmas, our Elf on the Shelf showed up. But, my husband and I had a few plans for how we wanted to make our Elf on the Shelf fun but a bit different.

Ditch the book

When the Elf on the Shelf showed up, he came with a book explaining all about how he works. The book tells how the elf will monitor the kids’ behavior and report back to Santa each night. It emphasized how touching the elf will make him lose his magic.

We decided our elf would arrive with a note instead explaining how he would work. That way we could personalize it for our family and how we wanted the elf to work.

No behavior monitoring

We kept the note simple and explained the magic of the elf meant no touching ON PURPOSE and that the elf needed a name.

But our elf also explained that he’d be hanging out to help our family get in the Christmas spirit throughout the season and sometimes leave notes with ideas of nice things to do. Instead of reporting their bad behavior back to Santa, the elf would report their good behavior and kind deeds.

We liked this idea better, because we wanted our kiddos to behave well since they are supposed to and not because they were afraid of not getting presents or having Santa be angry with them.

Decide when the Elf on the Shelf arrives and leaves

Some elves arrive the weekend after Thanksgiving. Most go back to the North Pole with Santa on Christmas Eve. Our elf has a slightly modified schedule. He arrives on Dec. 1. He does go back to Santa on Christmas Eve.

However, our first year with an elf our kids were sad he wouldn’t be around to see them open gifts, so he was able to convince Santa he could stay that year for Christmas Day and then fly back to the North Pole on his own.

Avoid naughty pranks

Part of the draw for the kiddos with Elf on the Shelf is his antics. And I agree. That little guy can get up to all sorts of things! But one thing our elf hasn’t ever done is something naughty. He may do silly things and pull pranks like wrapping the table in wrapping paper, but he’s in no way destructive.

Have Elf on the Shelf focus on Jesus

Another component of our elf is that he focuses on Jesus and His birth. He doesn’t mention it every day, but at least once during the season he shows up in the manger scene. And he mentions in his note on arrival how much he’s looking forward to spending another season celebrating the birth of Jesus with our family.

We want our children to enjoy all of the fun of Christmas with gifts, decorations, Santa and elves. But more than anything we want them to remember we are celebrating Christmas for God’s gift of Jesus.

Our family also reads through the Christmas story one verse a night through December and this year is pairing it with a devotion book, “A Family Christmas: 25 Days of 5-Minutes Christmas Devotions.” Our elf always comments in his final note about how much he enjoys hearing our family go through the Christmas story each evening.

Use the elf for kindness

While our elf gets up to some silly antics, he does also suggest nice things for the kids to do. For example, last year he organized the shoes in our mudroom then suggested the kids do a chore for someone else that day.

Let the elf bring treats

Our elf also likes to brings treats throughout the holiday season. It can be anything from Santa hats to Christmas crafts to candy coal. Our Elf on the Shelf comes with some treats throughout the season and gives the kids ideas to do with them or shares them just for fun as well.

I know our elf has liked shopping at the Dollar Tree and Five Below.

Make the elf posable

Elf on the Shelf has lots of accessories available to purchase. Our family has only gotten one accessory for our elf that I highly recommend: Elf Flex. It’s basically bendable wire that you help put into your Elf on the Shelf so that he or she can more easily stay in position.

Have a plan for touches

Invariably the elf is going to get touched. It was stressful to our kids, especially when they were younger. During the time we had a preschooler and toddler, our elf was OK to be touched. Once he wasn’t, we did our best to have him where he wouldn’t be easy to touch.

But, we also developed a system to counteract accidental touches or help him move if he falls. For accidental touches, we sprinkle a few grains of sugar on him and blow him a kiss. To help him reposition safely, we use gloves. The contact with human skin is often what can take away the magic from an Elf on the Shelf, after all!

Plan ahead

Sometimes helping the elf decide what to do each evening can be a chore. For some of us who do our best thinking earlier in the day, it can be particularly challenging to come up with creative ideas in the evening.

Going through posts like this one and others is helpful. Doing so before the elf even arrives is better. I make a list each November with ideas to help our Elf on the Shelf decide what to do each evening. I include any treats he’ll be bringing as ideas so I don’t forget them.

Set a reminder or alarm

By the end of the day, my brain tends to be shutting down. I have a reminder set for each evening to pop up and remind me to help our Elf on the Shelf with his plans.

Come up with a code name

Because adults sometimes need to talk about things related to the Elf on the Shelf, having a codename for him or her is a good idea. I use our elf’s code name on my reminder, on my list and when talking about him with my husband once the kids are in bed.

(Fellow geeks might appreciate the code name is Legolas.)

Keep the elf out of the way

One of the issues I struggled with before our Elf on the Shelf arrived was all the elaborate set-ups I saw online. I didn’t understand how the elf wouldn’t get in the way. I still don’t understand some of them. But I do help our elf come up with ideas that will keep him out of the way.

He doesn’t, for example, fill our bathroom sink up with marshmallows or sit on top of the gallon of milk I know we will need throughout the day. Even when he had some fun in our washing machine last December, he was smart enough to do it when laundry wasn’t going to be happening.

Have some fun!

I’ve heard many different adjectives from other parents from creepy to annoying. I get it. But once you’ve decided to welcome an Elf on the Shelf into your home for the Christmas season, have fun with the process.

When we were staying with my parents over Christmas while our house was being built three years ago, all four of us adults enjoyed the elf’s antics nearly as much as the kiddos!

In the end, there’s no better feeling than seeing your kids get excited to see what the elf has been up to and speculate about what he might do next.

Some ideas for your Elf on the Shelf

I’m neither a crafty nor an overly creative mom. Below are a few simple ideas our elf has done over the past few years if your elf is in need of inspiration.

First up is one from this year when our elf hung out with my son’s mailbox he’d been playing with and left the kids a letter template to write to Santa. He promised to take the letters straight to Santa if the kids left them in the mailbox before bedtime. You can download the Santa letter template and even a note from your elf as well by clicking on the images below.

When one of the kiddos had strep throat, the elf left a get well note and moved to the cabinet top to stay away from germs.
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