Edited to add commenter Jennifer C.’s important point.
So, now that I’ve told you how I really feel about our Elf on the Shelf, let’s discuss how the four and under half of the family feel about Doodlebug.
They absolutely love him (unless they get caught doing something naughty). Every morning it’s a huge game to see where he will be this time, and every evening there is rampant speculation about where he will be the next morning. Every few hours one of them will solemnly tell me the rules about him yet again. “Don’t touch him daddy, he’ll lose his magic.”, accompanied by solemn finger pointing (Sidebar: it’s really hard not to laugh when a four year old points at you solemnly).
This is our second year with Doodlebug so I’ve put together a few tips and tricks for all you elf newbies. Pay attention. Your kids’ reputation with Santa is on the line, and they will NOT be pleased if you mess something up. The older your kids are, the harder it will be to explain any anomalies.
- The family who receives the elf is supposed to name him. Have a long list of possibilities in your head otherwise you may end up with something like Doodlebug forever more. This is probably less important with older kids because they’ll be able to come up with something on their own, but my three year olds blew through a lot of suggestions before they finally settled on my least favorite suggestion.
- Know your kids. If you have a shy and/or thoughtful kid, she may not be happy about the idea of Santa planting a spy in your living room. Especially if he’s creepy looking and moves mysteriously. One family member told me her son was upset about the idea of Santa being able to get in and out of their house as he pleased. A friend mentioned her daughter seemed a little upset about their elf, but was trying to get on his good side as her twin brother menaced the elf with scary toys.
- Have a story ready for when they ask you why the elf is in the same place as yesterday. You’re definitely going to forget eventually, trust me. I have a daily reminder set in my phone and I’ve still had to get out of bed and go back downstairs because I realized I forgot to move him. “Because mama and daddy drank too much egg nog and forgot” is NOT going to be acceptable. The official website suggests that maybe that spot is just the elf’s favorite. Last year we generally kept it simple and said “Nobody knows” and then moved him during nap time. It doesn’t matter what you say, just be sure you know ahead of time.
- Be sure each daily spot is out of the way. Remember, you aren’t supposed to touch him so if you set the elf up on top of the toy box that’s going to be a problem when the kids want to play with the 18” tall Buzz Lightyear with retractable wings and real working laser that just happens to be in that box.
- There are elf alternatives. Quite a few friends have substituted less creepy looking elf dolls to the same effect. Elf on the Shelf just seems to be the most popular, and he comes with his own cute little book.
- Resist the urge to move him during the day. Even at the rate of one spot per day you’ll start running out of good spots long before Christmas, and once you start moving him during the day you will be bombarded with questions if he doesn’t move every time they leave the room.
At this point I have to admit, I feel a little dirty having written 500 words about how best to lie to your children. For my own mental well being (and for when the twins Google this in 20 years) I just have to add… The only reason I find this acceptable is because they both enjoy it so much, and I think an innocent lie or two is justified if it makes the world a little more happy. It’s essentially the same concept as Santa himself.