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What to Do if Your Child Sees You Move the Elf on the Shelf?

Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, countless parents tirelessly move their Elf on the Shelf every night to the delight of their kids. But every once in a while, we slip up. So what should you do if your child sees you move your Elf on the Shelf?

If your child sees you moving the Elf on the Shelf, stay calm, don’t panic, and don’t act caught or flustered. Simply explain that the elf was sick and needed a little extra assistance. Or say that Santa messaged you to let you know the elf was sick and needed a little extra help.

But there’s more to it than that!

Done wrong, your kids will easily see through your charade and know that it’s all been a lie. But they might also be at the right age to come clean anyway.

So in this article, we’ll explore what ages are best for kids to find out the truth and the best way to tell kids that Elf on the Shelf is fake, when you are ready to tell them.

Let’s dive in.

In a dimly lit cozy living room decorated with Christmas lights and holiday decor, a parent is adjusting an Elf on the Shelf, with their hands clearly

Is there a legitimate reason to tell kids why you moved your Elf on the Shelf?

If your child catches you moving the Elf on the Shelf, it’s natural to feel a bit flustered, but there are legitimate reasons you can offer that maintain the magic of the tradition while being honest.

One approach is to explain that sometimes the Elf needs a little help.

Just like in stories where magical creatures sometimes need assistance from humans (like children leaving out shoes for a cobbler elf or cookies for Santa), you could say that you were helping the Elf get to a new spot because maybe it had trouble deciding where to go next or needed a bit of assistance due to its many travels back and forth to the North Pole.

Another option is to turn it into a playful moment. You can suggest that the Elf was teaching you how to be sneaky and magical, just like it is. This can add an element of fun and conspiracy between you and your child, making them feel part of the magic.

It’s also a chance to instill a lesson about responsibility and caring. Explain that sometimes everyone, even a magical elf, needs a bit of help, and it’s okay to ask for it and give it. This reinforces the idea of teamwork and being there for each other, linking back to the spirit of community and giving during the holiday season.

By addressing the situation directly and creatively, you turn a potentially tricky moment into a positive and memorable part of your holiday tradition.

What age do kids stop believing in the Elf on the Shelf?

Kids stop believing in the Elf on the Shelf around the ages of seven to nine.

At this age range, children’s cognitive abilities are developing rapidly, and they begin to distinguish between reality and make-believe more clearly. They start applying logic to situations that previously were accepted without question, and this is a natural and healthy part of growing up.

Peer influence is significant too.

Children talk, and what they hear on the playground or in school can impact their beliefs about magical traditions like the Elf on the Shelf. If a child has older siblings, they might learn the truth earlier as they observe or overhear conversations.

It’s important to handle this transition sensitively.

When kids start questioning whether the Elf is real, it can be a good opportunity to encourage critical thinking. Ask them what they think and why, and commend them for their thought process, regardless of whether they believe or not. This not only helps in dealing with the specific issue of the Elf on the Shelf but also teaches them valuable reasoning skills.

Remember, even after kids stop believing in the Elf as a magical being, they can still enjoy the tradition and fun of finding the Elf each morning. It turns into a fun family game, maintaining the joy and excitement of the holiday season.

In a warmly lit cozy living room decorated with festive Christmas lights, a parent is gently adjusting a friendly-looking Elf on the Shelf on a mantel

Should I tell my kid Elf on the Shelf isn’t real?

Deciding whether to tell your child that the Elf on the Shelf isn’t real is a personal choice that depends on your family’s values and the specific circumstances.

If your child sees you moving the Elf and asks directly about it, consider their age and maturity before responding. Younger children who are deeply enchanted by the magic of the holiday might benefit from a gentle story that keeps the fantasy alive a bit longer, such as saying the Elf needed help or was playing a game.

For older children who are starting to figure things out, it might be an opportunity to have a more open conversation.

You can ask them what they think and let them lead the discussion. This approach respects their developing critical thinking skills and encourages honesty without directly dispelling the magic. It’s important to gauge their readiness; some kids might be ready to appreciate the fun and tradition behind the Elf without believing it’s real, while others might still cling to the magical aspect.

In any case, emphasize that the spirit of the Elf on the Shelf is about fun and family traditions.

It’s about creating joyful memories and not just about whether the Elf is real or not. Highlight that they can now participate in the tradition by helping younger siblings or cousins continue to believe, thus becoming part of creating holiday magic for others, which can be a very rewarding experience.

How to tell your child Elf on the Shelf isn’t real

Telling your child that the Elf on the Shelf isn’t real can be a sensitive moment.

When deciding to share this, it’s important to consider their age, maturity, and how they might react. If they directly ask you after seeing you move the Elf, it might be time to have the conversation.

First, find a quiet, comfortable moment when you won’t be interrupted. Start by acknowledging their curiosity and praising their observation skills, which shows that they are growing up and can handle more complex truths. You might say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been thinking a lot about the Elf. It’s really impressive how much you’re observing!”

Then, gently explain that the Elf is part of a fun game that families play during Christmas.

Emphasize that just like their favorite stories or movies, the Elf is a character that brings joy and fun into the house. You can explain that parents move the Elf around to create a magical story, and now they’re old enough to help continue this tradition if they have younger siblings or cousins.

Assure them that understanding the Elf is a game doesn’t take away from the holiday spirit.

Instead, it’s a new way to enjoy the season by helping keep the magic alive for younger kids. Encourage them to think of it as being part of a special ‘grown-ups’ secret and that they now have an important role in creating holiday magic for others. This approach can help ease the transition and keep the festive fun going.

In a warmly lit cozy living room decorated with Christmas lights and holiday decor, a parent is carefully placing an Elf on the Shelf on a mantelpiece

Final Thoughts

If your child happens to spy you moving your Elf on the Shelf, don’t panic. Resist the urge to spill the beans and disclose that it’s all fake. Remember the whole reason you started this, and countless other traditions, was to foster that childlike innocence in your children. So no need to blow it from a one-time mistake.

Explain that your elf got sick and just needed a little help. Or that Santa messaged you and told you the elf was sick or otherwise needed extra assistance. If they already believe in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and other holiday myths, they will easily buy a story like that.

But you remaining calm and confident will be what convinces them the most. If you act like a kid who got his hand caught in the cookie jar, they’ll be far more skeptical.

I have a collection of free printables for 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 them 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 are 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).

Jeff Campbell