Depending on who you talk to, Elf on the Shelf is either the best or worst thing to happen to families with young kids during the holiday season. Santa's little scout elf watches children's behavior and reports back to the big guy each night leading up to Christmas. I had heard a lot about it from friends and even used one in my kindergarten classroom, but I was never really sure I wanted to do it when I had kids of my own. I don't hate it like some parents, and I also don't think it's super creepy like others, but there was something missing from it for me. So, when I heard about an alternative focusing on spreading kindness during the holidays, I jumped at the chance to start that holiday tradition.
Kindness elves don't scout for Santa, but rather teach children about what kindness means and encourages them to spread love to others. The best part about this tradition is that each family can really make it their own. You can choose to use the kindness elves some companies provide along with their books and pre-made "random acts of kindness" cards, or you can find any type of cute elf figurine, stuffed animal, or ornament you'd like to bring into your family. You can also get creative and give them whatever back story you want. Whatever you choose, the premise behind it is the same: help your child spread kindness.
There's a lot of pressure on parents to move their Elf on the Shelf every night and come up with elaborate scenes for them that their kids will find every morning, but with your kindness elf, you can choose if you want them to stay in one place or have a different note every day or once a week. You can also decide when they first show up and how long they stay. It's entirely up to what works for each family, which took a huge load off me.
It helps teach kids that the holiday season should be mostly about giving, not receiving, and shows my daughter not only how easy it is to be kind, but also how nice it feels to make others happy.
When we introduced the kindness elves to my daughter, she was so excited. We have a girl and boy elf, and she decided they're brother and sister and came up with names for both. I wrote a note for them to arrive with, explaining where they came from and why they're here. It said they heard there was a kind little girl who would be able to help give them a voice, because, since they're so small, humans can't hear them. The note also explained that their mission is to spread kindness all year, but people sometimes need a special reminder during the holidays when things can get so busy or people aren't able to be with their loved ones. It ended with asking her to give them names, challenging her to help them spread kindness, and letting her know they may appear everyday, but also might not (which was more for me in case I forgot one night/morning to leave a note).
Every morning, she would look for them in the house, and the places she found them ranged from simple to complex, depending on what our schedule looked like. On a busy day, the note would say something like, "Good morning! Why don't you give your teacher an extra special smile today to let her know how much you enjoy school?" And on days we had more time, it would say something like, "Let's bake some cookies and bring them to the nursing home to spread some cheer!" Sometimes instead of even giving a task, the elves would leave something in the note about how they noticed she was spreading kindness, like, "We saw how kind you were to your brother when he needed help on the swing at the playground yesterday!" or "It made daddy so happy when you gave him an extra long hug after he got home from a long day at work."
It helps teach kids that the holiday season should be mostly about giving, not receiving, and shows my daughter not only how easy it is to be kind, but also how nice it feels to make others happy. Watching her excitedly hand out homemade dog treats at the local animal shelter or sift through her toys and books to donate them to children in need is one of the most fulfilling things to see as a parent. And to see her race down the stairs to find out what her elves have planned for her or watch her come up with ways to be kind on her own makes my heart smile. Instead of using bribes of bad reports to Santa, I'm helping her develop an inherent want to make others feel good because it makes her feel good, and that is at the top of my list as a parent — to raise good kind humans not just at Christmastime, but all year long.