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The “naughty or nice” judgments of Christmas have got to go

Photos by Jenn Choi
Not all elves sit on shelves.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Even though I write about toys, I am not big on Christmas traditions. My parents are immigrants from Korea and so I didn’t grow up listening to stories about Santa Claus and his workshop elves.

Now that I am a parent and I see products like Elf on the Shelf—A Christmas Tradition, I wondered if I could incorporate that into our family life this year. Ritual: the elf flies to the North Pole every night and reports on a family’s activities (good versus bad) and then lands in a new place every morning. Reality: After putting the kids to bed, harried parents have to find a new place to hide or prop the thing.

To be sure, my children could use a visual reminder to keep themselves in check and well-behaved this month. I especially loved the elf’s big eyes to remind them that they are being watched because in essence, when people see something or someone looking at them, it is rather instinctive to think, “I wonder what I look like right now.”

Luckily, the box arrived when they were at school and I quickly put the elf on a shelf in our living room and then I read the book. Halfway through it, I realized that I couldn’t read it to them. The elf says in the book that every night, he’ll go to Santa Claus and report to him. “I tell him if you have been good or been bad.” I disliked that a lot. What if my kids thought that they didn’t get everything on their list because they weren’t “being good” enough? It’s not as if Santa will send a report saying that their bonus was 50% smaller this year because they punched their little brother in the eye last week and the elf saw that.

Children don’t want to do wrong but they do and our job as parents is to teach them to turn their mistakes into productive mistakes.

Feeling remorseful is natural and desirable but we are doing them a disservice if that is the extent of our teaching.

Why let a good mistake go to waste? They may as well learn from these valuable opportunities and make changes not to let them happen again.Being placed on the naughty list does nothing except remind them to feel bad.

Feeling remorseful is natural and desirable but we are doing them a disservice if that is the extent of our teaching. When people make mistakes, especially children, sometimes the pain of having done wrong makes you feel so unworthy that you don’t even try to make up for what you’ve done. Thus, we must always stress: You are not bad. You are a good person who made a bad choice. It may just sound like a play on words but to a person’s mindset, it really is the most important component in learning how to forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

Whenever my kid says, “I’m just a bad kid.” I just tell him to stop insulting my son and that such a statement is no way to apologize. If he is really upset then I remind him that he could make 1 million mistakes but I will still love him and because I do, I will call him out when he screwed up. What he should really be asking is how he can make up for what he did wrong.

We parents pound the pavement and search for hours online for something that will enrich our children’s lives—it is that one time of the year when we can splurge without guilt. However, perhaps the best thing we can do for them at this time of year is to be compassionate. It’s not as if they asked to be the stars of the holiday because most children are not out there shopping for presents for everyone. Additionally, remember that they must return to school in January and tell their friends what their parents got for them. I still have trouble with that kind of pressure but children are too young to deal with such things.

We didn’t have a long discussion about it but I told my boys that our elf was not a spy, just a helper for them to remember what is expected and important.

I told my boys that our elf was not a spy, just a helper

Then, I saw my 10-year-old son gracefully placing our elf on top of our four-foot Christmas tree which meant that the elf was right at my children’s eye level. That is important because the elf is no good if you can’t see him. A few days later, I asked my seven-year-old if he remembered why I brought the elf home in the first place and he said, “To remind us to enjoy the holidays.” I hope he really does. Soon he will be a grownup and will be left on his own to remember what is really important this time of year. Hopefully, he’ll still have our elf to remind him if he needs it.

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

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