Christmas is long over, but there is one holiday activity parents may want to think twice about when it comes around again. Often parents will use the promise of presents from Santa to manage their children’s behavior. And one popular way to do this is the Elf on the Shelf. Here are three reasons why you may want to reconsider if you are thinking of taking part in this popular holiday tradition.
Encourages Extrinsic Motivation
Instead of using intrinsic, the Elf on the Shelf encourages positive behavior through extrinsic motivation. However, there is substantial evidence that intrinsic motivation is more powerful and sustainable than extrinsic motivation. In fact, a Fast Company article, The Only Motivation that Leads to Success, highlights research on how extrinsic motivation can backfire, leading to worse outcomes. For children, this could mean an increase in the “naughty” behavior before, during and after the holidays.
Imagine how you would feel if they recorded and monitored everything you did at work and then linked it to your salary. For many children, since gifts link to behavior, the notion of constant monitoring under high-stakes circumstances can lead to increased anxiety.
Combine these feelings with children’s already heightened state due to the increased stimulation of the holiday season, and it can be a recipe for disaster. And this is the exact opposite of what parents intended when they purchased the Elf.
Childhood is all about making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Parents of children with anxiety or sensitive dispositions know that perfectionism can limit the flexible thinking and healthy risk-taking that is so important for a child’s development.
Therefore, many parents actively work to overcome perfectionist tendencies in their children by modeling resiliency and downplaying inevitable mistakes. The Elf and its promotion of perfectionism can undermine this hard work.
What if your children don’t want to feel left out during the holiday season? As long as children don’t believe they are being monitored by the Elf, go wild. Dress him up, engage him in antics, and have him make a huge mess. Tell your children that the elf comes to life only at night when they are asleep. Promote him as a mischief maker, but not as a spy. Your children will still be able to enjoy the magic without the possible stress.