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Elf on the Shelf with an Anxious Child
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Elf on the Shelf with an Anxious Child

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Home Kid's Corner Elf on the Shelf with an Anxious Child

I’ve written about my son’s anxiety before knowing there are other mamas who can relate. I hope something I share may be an “us too!” moment for you… Those moments remind me we’re all part of the same tribe and doing the best we can. No message of warning against the little red shelf-elf in this article; just an experience to share with other mamas since until now I had never heard another child react to Elf on the Shelf as my son did this week.

Well Hello Mr. Elf on the Shelf

I can’t remember when he was gifted the first Elf on the Shelf (let’s call it EotS), I just know that it was a new tradition I was encouraged to adopt as a new mom. I never had any interest in it myself – the little guy kind of creeps me out. Also his magic has a lot of rules, he’s kind of untrusting in my opinion (he’s gonna rat me out to Santa? Really?) and like the most common complaint from moms, I just dreaded having to move the darn guy every night. Until this year I’ve been able to get through the holidays without the tiny red guy/gal making an appearance. If it counts, last year I did put the Elf-on-the-Shelf-in-his-box-on-the-shelf, but that was the most I was willing to do until my son showed interest. One night earlier this week interest was piqued and hand-in-hand we started what would be our very short EotS holiday journey…

And Here We Go!

Monday two things happened – we meet Elfie the Elf while dropping off Sutton’s bestie Ryan after school. We also discovered our own Elf-on-the-Shelf-in-the-box-in-a-bin. When we met Elfie he was mischievously hanging from a picture in the hall – that silly guy! Ryan excitedly told Sutton about his family’s EotS tradition and he absorbed the details with gusto, mentioning Elfie a couple more times during the evening. When we got down our own holiday decorations from the attic our very own EotS was discovered. Since we had just met Elfie hours before it seemed like magic that our very own appeared (and had I planned it I guess he wouldn’t have appeared in the box)! After seeing Sutton’s reaction to the discovery I was totally on board to accept this little guy into our holiday traditions. Because, magic.

We open the box, freed the elf, and read the book. I could tell he was getting nervous as he learned the elf would be traveling nightly to the North Pole. His eyes were wide as I read the part about how touching him would take away the magic, since he was currently clutching him to his chest. When we were done learning about him I could tell he was worried. He asked “do you think this is a REAL Elf on the Shelf?” and I responded that we could find out tomorrow if he’s making funny mischief in a different part of the house from where we leave him. Well, then he wanted to sleep with him of course!

So, I wait for my late-owl of a kid to get to that deep sleep where I can pry toys out of his hands. Killing time, I dig into the cupboard and find some mini marshmallows, pull out the Santa cookie plate and prepare a note that says “Santa says ‘Hi'”.

Then..

Fast forward to 4:30am and crying wails of sadness and fear coming from the 4-year-old’s room. Daddy can’t seem to understand it, but even from down the hall I hear it between the sobs, “I (sob) want (sob) to give him away (sniff-sob-gasp)”. The default reaction to being afraid of losing or breaking a toy has always been to ask to give it away – the anxiety is just too much. I get him into bed with us and calmed enough to hear that he woke up and the elf was gone and he’s worried he won’t come back. I assure him that I really believe he’ll be okay and we’ll find him in the morning. The tears well up a few more times but eventually he gets back to sleep.

And THEN…

Waking up the next morning he picked up where he left off. Instead of a fun hunt for a trouble making friend, we were on nervous search to ensure the elf made a safe return. Finding him in the kitchen with a bag of mini marshmallows was a short-lived relief and adding mini marshmallows to breakfast was a short-lived distraction. The conversation turned back to giving away our newly named Mellow the Elf (ironic, I know… “Do you mean ‘Mallow’?” No.). We talked more and we got to the root of the issue; Sutton was worried Mellow would get lost during his travels to and from the North Pole. A valid concern, really! Our solution was to ask our EotS to stay with us until after Christmas when it was time to return to the North Pole for the year. It was another day and a half of nervous inquiries before we comfortably fell into a routine where the Elf on the Shelf was just that, an elf sitting on a shelf.

Mellow being mellow

Lessons Learned

The lesson I take from this experience is for my son, too much engineered magic is overwhelming. In particular the story of the elf’s travels pushed him to an uncomfortable place and he lost the magic in all his worry for Mellow’s safety. For him, vague works best and he is happiest and at peace with a sprinkling of magic dust and a free roaming imagination. Sutton wanted Mellow’s spot on the shelf to be next to the craft he made last year for his daddy’s Christmas gift (aka “me as a butterfly”). This is the perfect place with the perfect reminder for our household – it says “Magic Moments… Every Day”Because, magic.