We recently debuted Elf on the Shelf in our house. In case you haven’t already heard of it, EOTS is the newest craze in holiday-themed kid control. If the thought of Santa simply knowing whether your children are bad or good isn’t enough to prevent them from engaging in sleighfuls of coal-worthy behavior, you can stick this tiny stuffed elf someplace prominent (like on a shelf, for instance), and the cheery little narc will monitor your kids’ naughty/niceness each day, sending some presumably highly influential reports straight to the big man up north.
So it’s a totally easy way to keep the kids in line.
(Unless they react like ours did.)
We stashed our elf on a bookshelf for the kids to discover. We read the accompanying book out loud. Then we waited and watched for what was sure to be immediate, enthusiastic acceptance of our sneaky new tradition. Here’s what we got instead:
Our Three-Year-Old: That’s not real. It’s just pretend.
Our Three-Year-Old: It’s just a doll that you buy at the store.
Us: At the store? Nooo! What? But the book! Remember the book?!? She talks to Santa! For realsies!!!
Our Three-Year-Old: No, she’s a doll. It’s just pretend.
Us: (fists raised to the heavens) WHAT THE ELF?!?
At first, we didn’t understand what happened. Aren’t kids supposed to accept fantastical stories with gleeful, unadulterated belief? Had we somehow raised a tiny grinch? If this elf couldn’t get our kid to believe, how much longer until Santa and the Easter Bunny got the axe?
Luckily, Amber’s a developmental psychologist, so she turned to research for answers. And that’s where we found two very encouraging bits of information.
1. Our daughter’s reaction wasn’t that freaky after all.
A recent journal article reported that children are as likely to be skeptical as they are to believe. Because they tend to rely on what they already know to help them make reality judgments, young kids often doubt new information, even when it’s factual – like the existence of an animal they’ve never heard of, or invisible germs.
2. Kids’ judgments about fantasy versus reality can be easily manipulated.
Research shows that children’s beliefs can be swayed by things like the testimony of trusted people, or by evidence they see for themselves. So if we keep talking up our elf (whom our daughter named Sarah, by the way – whatever happened to adorable seasonal names like “Holly” and “Jolly”?), and make sure it keeps magically appearing in new locations every day, pretty soon our daughter should be duped, and our $29.99 will become money well spent.
You know – the $29.99 we spent to buy this pretend doll at the store.