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How old is child for Elf on the shelf?

Elf on the Shelf has become a popular Christmas tradition in many households. Parents hide a small elf doll in their home and tell their children that the elf is watching over them to report back to Santa if they have been naughty or nice. This fun holiday game is meant to motivate good behavior in the weeks leading up to Christmas. But what is the appropriate age for a child to start participating in Elf on the Shelf?

What is Elf on the Shelf?

Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition that originated as a children’s book in 2005. The book tells the story of a scout elf sent by Santa to watch over children and report back to the North Pole on their behavior before Christmas. The elf is small enough to sit on shelves, countertops, and other surfaces in the home without being seen. Each morning, the elf is found in a new spot after returning from the North Pole to report to Santa overnight. This creates an air of magic and excitement around the elf doll.

The Elf on the Shelf kit includes a small elf doll and a children’s book explaining the concept. The tradition urges parents to name their elf and move it to a new location each night in December leading up to Christmas. Children are told that the elf cannot be touched because doing so will take away its magic. This rule helps prevent wear and tear on the doll and gives parents a chance to discreetly reposition it at night.

What are the benefits of Elf on the Shelf?

There are several benefits associated with the Elf on the Shelf tradition:

  • It promotes good behavior – The elf serves as a friendly reminder for kids to be on their best behavior leading up to Christmas.
  • It encourages imagination – Children often develop imaginative backstories and personalities for their elf.
  • It adds festive excitement – Finding the elf in a new spot each morning adds to the anticipation and fun of the holiday season.
  • It enables family bonding – Families can have fun coming up with places to hide the elf and new scenarios nightly.
  • It takes pressure off parents – Having an elf as a monitoring system allows parents to avoid constantly reminding kids to behave.

Overall, Elf on the Shelf offers a whimsical and engaging way for families to add extra magic and motivation to the Christmas season.

What are the age recommendations for Elf on the Shelf?

Most child development experts agree that Elf on the Shelf is best suited for children ages 5-10. Here are the key age recommendations:

Ages 3-4

Most 3-4 year olds are too young to fully understand the premise of Elf on the Shelf. They are still developing a sense of fantasy vs. reality and may struggle to remember the elf rules from day to day. Some children this age are also frightened by the idea of being watched by an elf.

Ages 5-7

Age 5 is often cited as the ideal age to introduce Elf on the Shelf. Around this age, most children are able to understand the concept of a scout elf watching them but still possess a strong sense of fantasy and imagination. Kids this age will likely enjoy discovering the elf each morning but may need parents to remind them of the touching rule frequently.

Ages 8-10

Older children in this age range can fully comprehend the concept behind Elf on the Shelf and remember the elf rules. They also have the strong imaginations needed to appreciate it fully. However, some children begin questioning the reality of Santa around ages 9-10, so parents should gauge if their child is ready to give up the fantasy of the elf.

What factors should influence the decision of when to start?

When deciding what age to introduce Elf on the Shelf, parents should consider the following:

  • Child’s developmental level – Assess their ability to grasp the concept of fantasy vs. reality.
  • Attention span – Will they remember the elf rules from day to day or need frequent reminders?
  • Interest in Christmas – Is your child excited about Santa, presents, and the holiday season?
  • Enjoyment of imagination games – How much does your child like make-believe play?
  • Need for behavior incentives – Do they respond well to rewards for good behavior?

Knowing your individual child’s personality and stage of development will help determine if introducing Elf on the Shelf now or in a year or two is more appropriate.

What are some concerns about Elf on the Shelf?

While many families embrace the Elf on the Shelf tradition with no problems, some concerns have been raised about potential negative impacts, including:

Stress and pressure

Having an elf that constantly monitors behavior may place unnecessary anxiety and stress on children to behave perfectly. The elf can also create pressure for busy parents who don’t want to disappoint kids if they forget to move it.

Behavior problems

Rather than motivating good behavior, the elf’s presence could lead to acting out or testing boundaries in some children. Kids may vent their frustration about being watched at school or with siblings.

Loss of magic

Finding out the elf isn’t real, especially from peers at school, could ruin the innocence and magic of the Christmas season earlier than necessary for kids.

Lack of privacy

The idea of an elf who constantly watches them may unsettle some children and raise concerns about lack of privacy.

Materialism and commercialism

Critics argue the tradition promotes materialism and commercialism by dangling presents as a reward for good behavior.

Ultimately, how children respond to Elf on the Shelf varies greatly. Parents should gauge their child’s temperament and maturity level before starting the tradition.

What are some best practices for success?

When introducing Elf on the Shelf to your family, the following tips can help ensure a fun and stress-free experience:

  • Read the book together and establish the elf rules.
  • Give your elf a name and backstory to spark your child’s imagination.
  • Make returning the elf a family affair by taking turns placing it.
  • Use the elf remind kids of household rules they are still mastering.
  • Send occasional notes from the elf praising good behavior.
  • If you forget to move the elf, have it write a note explaining why.
  • Remind children frequently not to touch the elf.
  • Downplay the present aspect; focus more on fun with the elf itself.

With the right approach, Elf on the Shelf can add whimsy and positive reinforcement to holiday traditions.


Elf on the Shelf offers families a creative way to build anticipation and motivate good behavior leading up to Christmas. While some concerns exist around starting the tradition too early, most child development experts agree ages 5-7 tend to be the ideal ages. When first introducing the elf, be sure your child understands the concept and rules. With patience, imagination and a little holiday magic, Elf on the Shelf can become a beloved part of your Christmas countdown.