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What Age is Elf on the Shelf For? (Rules to Start and Stop)

Our family loves Elf on the Shelf. But with 3 kids of a wide age range, I wondered what age is Elf on the Shelf good for?

Elf on a Shelf is officially created for kids between 36 months and 15 years. However, many kids as young as age 2 enjoy the holiday tradition, and many kids over age 10 begin to lose interest after they stop believing in Santa Claus.

But there’s a lot more to know about the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, ages, when to start the tradition and when to stop it.

There are some great ways to introduce your elf to your kids and some heartfelt ways to say goodbye when they begin to age out of it.

Let’s explore!

What is Elf on the Shelf?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or don’t have kids, you’ve surely heard of Elf on the Shelf.

It’s both an elf doll and also a companion children’s book called The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, first published in 2004 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. You can buy the doll/book combo almost anywhere when it’s the holiday season, including Target, Wal-Mart, and, of course, Amazon.

The idea is that the elf was sent to your house from Santa to help keep an eye on your kids. Each night they fly home to the North Pole and then return just before daybreak.

For us poor parents, that means we have to find a creative new place to move the elf to once the kids go to bed, and coming up with fun ideas each night.

It’s also a big no-no to ever touch your elf in front of your kids (who after all think the elf is real). That makes them sick and they temporarily lose their magic (giving you a much-needed night off from moving your elf).

Traditionally the elf would show up the day after Thanksgiving, and then go away the evening of Christmas Eve. Sometimes parents have their elf show up throughout the year for their kid’s birthdays.

What’s the point of Elf on the Shelf?

The point of Elf on the Shelf is to add another layer of innocence to the Christmas holiday season. Young children all over the world already believe in Santa Claus, so Elf on the Shelf is just a natural extension of that.

Your little elf flies home to the North Pole every night to report back to Santa on your child’s good behavior.

For the cynics, the “evil” elf is basically a marketing creation. Someone invented the idea in 2004 as a way to sell dolls, books, DVDs, and accessories.

Of course, many traditions were probably started by marketers looking to generate sales, so that’s not really unusual.  Also, like a lot of traditions, it eventually became ingrained in the hearts of kids and parents everywhere.

Our older daughters used to race downstairs every morning during the holiday season to see where Cookie had moved to.  They would talk to Cookie and be convinced that Cookie was as real as you and I.

My wife and I did sometimes tire of having to create new fun things to do with the elf every night. So much so that I compiled a list of 31 Mischievous Elf on the Shelf Ideas.

Just click that link to see my article.

My point in that article was to come up with really fun things to make your elf do, BUT to also make them quick and easy for tired parents.

So check them out if you need some inspiration.

How does Elf on the Shelf arrive for the first time?

As the book tells us, when your family buys an Elf on the Shelf and names it, that’s when it comes to life through the miracle of Christmas magic. Then the elf flies to the North Pole each night to update Santa Claus on your kids.

After you buy your elf (typically done without your kids), your elf arrives the day after Thanksgiving. But whatever day you decide to decorate your tree works also.

You would name your elf to instill magical powers and bring it to life and then read the book to your kids. That night, after the kids go to bed, your elf would “fly” home to the North Pole and then return in the morning before the kids wake up.

That’s your cue to move the elf to a new position once they are asleep.

What are the rules for Elf on the Shelf

The 2 simple rules for Elf on the Shelf are to never touch your elf when your kids are around and the elf is supposed to fly home to the North Pole each night and then land in a new spot in your home before morning.

Of course, you can add or make up your own rules; this is just for fun, after all.

But there are 2 general rules most elf owners go by, so if your kids talk about their elf with their friends, it’s good to not stray too wildly from the core fundamentals.

  1. Don’t touch your elf – The elf loses his or her magic when touched by hands. Some people claim the elf loses its magic “forever” but in our house, that’s a bit extreme, so we say for a day. If you do have to move the elf, it’s great to use kitchen tongs or some tool to avoid hand contact.
  2. The elf moves every night to a different spot– This is important for the storyline of the elf updating Santa. Of course, unless you are perfect, there WILL be some night where you’re tired and forget to move it. In those cases, we tell our kids that Cookie must be sick, and then the next day she makes a miraculous recovery.

If you do accidentally touch the elf with your hands, since they lose their magic for a day, you get the night off on moving it. Then the next night, it would be back to elf business as usual.

The Elf on the Shelf FAQ page also makes the following suggestions for helping your elf’s magic to return after accidentally being touched:

  • Write a note to your elf or Santa – Apologize for touching the elf and ask for the magic to be restored
  • Sprinkle some cinnamon around your elf! Cinnamon naturally boosts your elf’s energy enough to fly home so they can see the North Pole doctor
  • Sing Christmas carols to your elf – If you’ve seen the movie Elf you know how much Christmas spirit recharges Santa’s sleigh. It works the same on your elf.

Is there an age limit for Elf on the Shelf?

Officially, the Elf on the Shelf company says, that their product is for kids between age 3 and age 15. But “officially”, scout elves aren’t supposed to get married, but many parents do arrange wedding ceremonies.

In truth, most 15-year-olds will have long stopped believing in Santa and will probably think that Elf on the Shelf is lame and for little kids. But for the young at heart, children of all ages can have fun with it if they aren’t too cynical.

My older 2 daughters, ages 15 and almost 16 as of this writing, both no longer believe in Santa and were pretty disinterested in our elf last few Christmas seasons. But since my youngest daughter was only 5 years old, she’s fully into it.

I also think you could start Elf on the Shelf at age 2 rather than 3, although certainly, ages 3-7 is probably the sweet spot.

When should you start Elf on the Shelf?

The company recommends age 3, but I think age 2 works also.

Once kids hit age 2, they are really noticing a lot, are naturally curious, and get excited about cool things. That child-like innocence is in full-effect too, so the holiday season becomes a magical time.

I will say that while age 2 is a fun age to start, they may not have the attention span to sit through the reading of the book, and they probably won’t grasp all the rules and general concepts.

But it will still be fun to start and it will set the stage for the next year.

What age do you stop Elf on the Shelf?

I definitely saw a lack of interest during the Christmas season when my older girls were ages 10 and almost 12.

Their friends had all started to tell them Santa wasn’t real. When that happened, all of the childhood legends from the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy and our elf Cookie all started to not be interesting anymore.

So while the company officially says age 15 year olds as the top end, I personally think that’s way too old.

The only exception I would make is if there are still younger siblings in the house. That is true in our case, so we will definitely keep doing it for our youngest daughter Layla.

Now that the cat’s out of the bag with the older girls, hopefully, this coming holiday season we’ll get them in on the action, and that might make them interested again from a different perspective.

So I would say 10 or 11 would be about the maximum age kids will still be interested in Elf on the Shelf. But whenever they learn the truth about Santa should be about right.

How to write a goodbye note from Elf on the Shelf

An Elf on the Shelf goodbye letter is crucial for the end of each holiday season, as scout elves are supposed to be gone by Christmas day.

But you might also want to write one when your elf is leaving for good as your kids have gotten old enough to not be as interested anymore.

Remember, this is a letter to your kids from your elf. Elves are known for being a little funny and mischievous, so your letter should reflect that.

Of course, the final letter your elf writes could be more heartfelt as it’s certainly a sad occasion when you close the door on that level of childhood innocence.

I have a collection of free printable Elf on the Shelf goodbye letters (5 seasonal and 2 final) you can download for FREE!

They are in Microsoft Word, that way you can personalize it with your elf’s name and also address them to your kids if you wish.

Use a cool font for your Elf on the Shelf goodbye note

Assuming you’ll write the letter on your computer and print it, I recommend using a sort of funky, hand-written looking font.

You may have some great ones, but there’s a ton of free ones you can download too. Since this will be during the holiday season, you could also use some holiday-themed fonts too.

Here are my favorite free fonts for Elf on the Shelf goodbye letters

(just click to download them for free from the font website):

Like most fonts you would download online, these are zip files. Just right click to expand and then drag the folder contents into your fonts folder (that for a PC; I’m not super familiar with Mac).

Final thoughts

In this post, we took a quick look at the Elf on the Shelf tradition.

Elf on the Shelf can bring joy and excitement to younger children during the holiday season, regardless of their age, but the sweet spot is between the ages of 3 and 8.

This fun and interactive elf toy keeps the holiday spirit alive in a unique and engaging way.

As a newer tradition, it has become a cherished part of many a family tradition, lighting up children’s faces with delight. To learn more about this enchanting tradition and find ideas for incorporating the elf into your holiday festivities, visit the official Elf on the Shelf website.

Embrace the magic and create lasting memories with this beloved holiday companion and family member.

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Jeff Campbell