The idea of Elf on the Shelf is based on a 2005 Christmas book The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition. The book plays on children’s magical thinking and tells the story of an Elf who is there to essentially spy and supervise the child’s behavior and later report back to Santa if the child is being “naughty” or “nice.” Talk about the fermenting of paranoia and nightmares. Well-meaning but desperate parenting, trying to nip negative behavior in the bud are creating more anxiety and less intrinsic motivation towards good deeds. The child learns that he/she is on a deadline to get all the gifts on his list by the end of December IF he/she can act a certain way in front of the new guest in their house.
Even more disturbing, are the rules for the Elf game. The child is to name the Elf and set him up on the shelf. Once this is done, no one can touch the Elf or else the Elf loses his magic and cannot fly to the North Pole to report back to Santa. So, the child becomes responsible for a Christmas surveillance guard for his/her behavior and cannot touch it or play with it or else he loses his gift lifeline from Santa. WOW!
Isn’t it just much easier to teach your child to behave than to concoct such a story? Also, don’t you think that expecting your child to miraculously behave and then blame him for poor behavior in a four -week time frame is just a little cruel? Imagine if your boss asked you to learn a new skill that takes years or days of diligence, consistency, guidance, practice, natural consequences, in a matter of weeks? I don’t know how much you would like this boss. What if this boss stated that management was installing surveillance cameras to watch over your every move, in order for you to earn that end of the year bonus solely based on your output this month WHILE you are learning the new skill without much guidance from management? I wonder how good you would feel as an employee of such a boss.
Check out our other blog entry on how to plan for, survive, and thrive in the holiday season as a perfectionist parent.
What do children learn? That they must behave well in front of those in charge of their future. We would like to think that this behavior would generalize to other situations, but the opposite happens. Children learn to sneak or lie about their true feelings when they don’t feel they are being surveilled. This is like when you’re on the turnpike and you are going 85 mph and see a police car up ahead, you slow down back to the speed limit, only to speed up again when the police car is out of sight.
Children also learn that good behavior = gifts. Not that good behavior = person who cares for the well-being of others and the good of humanity. Parents complain that children are ungrateful brats who want, want, want, only to toss the toy after just a few uses while they were begging or tantruming like their life depended on it just a few weeks ago.
There’s also a lack of connection and disrespect that brews in the background. Instead of you, the parent overseeing your child’s behavior, you have anointed a tiny elf thing to do the overseeing of bad behavior. This creates a rift in the relationship and promotes a disrespect from child to parent.
Chucky, the infamously notorious villain doll of the 1990’s was part of the zeitgeist of trust/mistrust and lack of autonomy. Chucky is different from the Elf because his intention is to murder, and the Elf is to get the child the gift but bear with me while I make the correlation. The horror movies were based on a doll who looked like a “cute kid” and took on the soul of a murderer who tried to inhabit another human. The doll was more powerful than the entire family and even got married at some point! There was nothing that the child could do to destroy this doll. The wonderful and not so wonderful thing about anxiety is that is based on imagination, the “what if’s” that life has to offer. So, by telling your child that this Elf has these magical powers, who’s to say that your child’s imagination won’t travel to this type of plot especially when he feels like he has let people down for not following through on good behavior and feels the need to be punished?
I understand you, parents. We want well behaved kids for a well behaved holiday season. But this is bigger than just the Elf. This is about reward charts, behavior plans, threats to take away our kid’s most prized possessions. There are other ways to have well-behaved kids. Call me to schedule an appointment so we can find what works for your family. I can be reached at 786-383-4942.
Tis the season to be jolly – or flabbergasted that yet another year is about to end? Where does the time go? And, during this time of the year, time seems to fly by at lightning speed. Between deciding on and budgeting for holiday gift guide for teachers, daycare directors, co-workers, family, and friends, to circumnavigating the heavy snowbird induced traffic (we do love tourists in Miami) it can reach to a snazzy level of suspenseful exhaustion and exhilaration. You may find yourself like Riley from Inside Out feeling all types of feels all at once. And top on that your regular daily to-do list, you are in for a treat!
Holiday season is quite difficult for the perfectionist parents, because, well, we want it all and all done well. We tend to over exert ourselves on the daily and tend to stretch every millisecond of the day to include one last item from our to-do list. So, holiday season is that on overdrive. The focus of the holidays to take care of everyone else (gift giving, meal prepping, outfit shopping) and perfectionistic parents can get a tad overwhelmed with keeping up with the daily needs of everyone on top of getting the holiday prep done just right. How many of you for the sake of holiday cheer end up yelling or snapping at your loved ones just before the photo shoot for that dazzling holiday card only to feel guilty about it later? Or fall into the the Elf on the Shelf trap?
Our kids feel our angst, too. So, in any attempt to try to assuage your perfectionistic tendencies from going a bit haywire, take note of the following:
Happy holidays. Sending much love,
Dr. Eva Benmeleh is a child psychologist in North Miami who specializes in psychological evaluations, gifted testing, parenting help and child development. Call (786) 383-4942 or email email@example.com for more information or consultations.
If yoWith back-to-school shopping soon to be underway, added along with summer expenses like camp and vacations and the (regular list of food, clothes, toys, and gifts, your kids may notice the spending ask you questions related to money. Living in Miami doesn’t help. With such an abundance of goodies available, at all price ranges, and such stark contrasts between what social circles can afford, it’s no wonder our kids bombarded with the twinkling fantasy of having so much, just as much as we are as adults.
Questions like this may have you wondering how to talk to your kids about money:
“Why can’t I have two sneakers of XYZ brand instead of one?”
“How come you say that you can pay for this camp, but not the other one?”
“Why do I need to use these old school supplies instead of buying new ones?”
“How come we go to private school when so-and-so goes to public school?”
“Why do people ask for money on the street?”
“How much money do you make?”
“How much does our house cost?”
“Are we rich/poor?”
The list of questions goes on. And really, our kids can ask about money at any given point- so, it’s best that we have some idea of how we wish to respond instead of answering things like:
“That’s none of your business.”
“Why are you being nosy?”
“Talking about money is bad manners.”
“Because we can’t afford it.” (True or not!)
Or, saying nothing, changing the subject or ignoring the child’s question altogether.
Sometimes, you might take these questions personally, like our children are attacking or questioning our ability to provide for them. Many parents feel like their children are questioning our ability to be “good parents.”
You might find yourself feeling or thinking:
“How dare she complain about how many shoes I buy her! Doesn’t she realize how hard I work?”
“Is he that ungrateful that he is jealous of his friends?”
“I need to work harder. Maybe she feels lesser than because we can’t afford the same things as her friends. I don’t want her to feel left out. I can just put it on the credit card and pay for it later.”
“I should have become an accountant. This job pays #$&*%.”
“Am I raising a spoiled brat?”
These are great questions to ponder! Maybe not while you’re in the middle of the shoe rack aisles with one kid trying on shoes five times too small and the other kid is whining over Converse sneakers…but good ones to consider nonetheless. Why? Our kids come to this world to push our buttons. They push us to see the yucky-muck things within ourselves and to evolve. Let’s deconstruct…
If you are talking about money with your kids and taking it personally as an attack on your ability to provide for your family, sit down and take a seat. Consider these thoughts and questions:
Money is such a loaded subject, isn’t it? We are taught not to talk about money. For some people, talking about money is like talking about religion, sex and politics. The conversation is only to be had with your most trusted circle and even then, with major care.
As parents, we wonder when to start talking to our kids about wealth? How do we handle money? Do we start an allowance for chores? What about the tooth fairy, birthday gifts, toys, etc. The list goes on…
First, it’s important, as in most parenting decisions, to be on the same page with your partner or significant other on this topic. Once you have dealt with your own feelings about money, you can begin teaching your kids about money. Reflection is always a good place to start.
“I see you want to buy more than one pair of shoes.”
“You’re wondering about the people on the street with signs asking for money.”
Then, be honest with how you decide how to spend the money. Including your children in the process can help them understand how the world works and the importance of saving and spending money. If they are questioning why you spend on something verses another thing, they are questioning your values because they want to learn. This can be difficult if you don’t have an idea of your values. It’s always okay to say, “Let me get back to you on that one.” But make sure you really do when you’re ready. The more taboo you make a topic, the hungrier and more resourceful your kids will get at finding out the answers.
So don't shy away from those difficult conversations to have with your kids! If they are asking about an adult topic or subject, it's a good sign you have a curious little person that is interested in learning how the world works. Have you had a talk with your kids about money? How did it go? Are you thinking about teaching your preschooler about money? Do you wonder how to have this conversation with your kids? Let’s talk about it.
Happy Father’s Day!
Dads, on this Father’s Day, I want to commemorate you. I want to thank you for taking the time to learn about being a parent. To trying to be open to this challenge of raising little ones, with someone who may or may not come from a similar parenting background. I want to thank you for trying to raise independent thinkers instead of carbon copy mini-me’s. For taking the time to think- is how I am disciplining my child- building up his spirit or tearing him down? For teaching your daughters what to look for in “good guy” by the way you treat their mother and other women in your life. For looking at your double standards and trying to make amends so you don’t act hypocritical. All of this and more is how you are important. And all of this and more you accomplish every day of your life with your kids. I want to thank you because along with mothers, you are helping raise the next generation.
Society is waking up to the importance of mental health in parents. We are slowly (but surely) but too slowly- beginning to understand that when an infant is born, so too is a parent. We have a skewed and misinformed idea that men- fathers- must keep it together at all costs for the sake of being the breadwinner, support system, “man of the house”. This is the same illogical type of thought process society has for mothers, too. However, since maternal mental health is starting to be taken seriously, many believe that any feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, questions of being good enough are solely experienced by the woman – mom.
Longer hours at the office, relationship betrayals, increasing alcohol or drug use, under/overeating, becoming hyper vigilant about the safety and health of the child, mother, or family unit are a reaction to the father's role and cannot be pushed aside as a "phase". We wrongfully assume that men just fall into the father role automatically. Men are expected to return to work full force, with the same capacity despite waking up to in the middle of the night, or with the added pressure of care taking (financially, emotionally, physically) for a new member of their family.
I say, let’s stop this nonsense. But, it’s not so easy. Why? The typical advice that is given – “share your emotions,” “talk about what’s bothering you to problem solve for solutions,” is just not very manly. Right? So, throughout childhood, boys are instructed to not cry, to act tough, to figure it out. But once a baby is born, men are suddenly supposed to know how to share their feelings? With the very same people who have lived with them acting all macho and put together? WOW. Talk about an adjustment.
It sounds easy, but it clearly is not. First, there needs to be a vocabulary- what words describe which emotions. For some people, this is easier than others. Some are at a loss for words and find it hard to describe what they are going through. They may think that their negative feelings mean that somehow, they are not cut out for this dad thing, or that they may not love their family as much as they hoped they would. These types of thoughts feed into the dismissing or obsessive types of behaviors that can create family turmoil during stressful times.
Statistics show that 10% of new fathers experience symptoms of depression that get in the way with their life at home and work. These situations do not define you, but if you don't get past them, you can get stuck in them and end up defining yourself within these parameters. The biggest barrier to getting help is shame. When we feel embarrassed and shameful about our thoughts and feelings, we c]am up. And then what happens? That thought or feeling becomes HUGE and takes up more and more space in our mind. We convince ourselves that what we are going through is despicable and unique to us. Don't fall for that trap!
Try, even if you can't find the right words- to talk to someone. Choose wisely, some people are not ready for your level of honesty. Try to find someone who can understand you. Many men have gone through similar situations and if no one in your social circle has gone through similar situations- look for support in other groups, speak to a professional, read books and articles. Just like it is okay for a woman to ask for help, it's okay for men, too.
Dads, you are important. Your well-being is crucial to the stability of your family. As a caretaker for others, take care of yourself.
Dr. Eva Benmeleh
I am a licensed clinical child psychologist in Hallandale Beach. I hope you enjoy the site!
221 West Hallandale Beach Blvd., Suite 202
Hallandale, FL 33009