how to explain no elf on the shelf*This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more details.

So… who here wants to know how not to do Elf on the Shelf?? And I don’t mean mistakes to avoid when posing the little guy, I mean how to avoid having an elf around altogether.

Elf on the Shelf has become one of the most viral and polarizing traditions of Christmas in recent years, and as a mom of a 5 year old and 2 year old I’m feeling the pressure to pick a side. And, for reasons I won’t get into here (that’s not what this post is about) I’m leaning heavily towards “No thanks.”

But how to explain that to a little kid without mommy sounding like a big poopy head? Or in a way that doesn’t create negative vibes around either side of the issue? My kids haven’t asked yet (I first wrote this with a 3 year old, I now have a 5 and 2 year old and they still haven’t asked!), but that darn Elf is everywhere so it’s only a matter of time before he runs into one at school (I guess a lot of teachers have them?!) or at a friend’s house and thinks it looks fun. And of course he might never ask, but I want to be prepared, just in case.

So, in the interests of gathering ideas, and not being caught all unawares and floundering, I did some asking around. Here’s what real moms said about how they say no to elf on the shelf.

How to explain why there’s no Elf on the Shelf at your house

“You can just say that you don’t need one because your kid is good and Santa already knows it. The elf is for the kids that need to be watched? This is the first year I didn’t bring it out and my daughter hasn’t asked where he is!” ~Maggie M.

“We don’t have one. My kids haven’t asked about it… Yet. I’ll probably change the subject and ask if they want ice cream.” ~Courtney J.

“We did it for 2 years and I have no idea where it is. My daughter hasn’t asked about it but if she does, I plan on telling her she was too well behaved and he got bored.” ~Caitlyn C.

“Nope! Can’t do it! My younger kids ask about it and I tell them they are just for fun and we choose to do other things that are fun.” ~Dezi H.

“I just tell them we don’t need an elf to report back to Santa… we have a direct phone number to Santa and Mommy can call it anytime. I tell them the elf is silly and that you don’t want a ‘spy’ watching you to see if you’re being naughty or nice. Haha! I’m a horrible lying person.” ~Brenda A.

We have one. But I’ve told my son not everyone has them because they can be scary to people, like how some people are afraid of clowns. Moms and dads have to request an elf. Also, toy companies make dolls that look like elves for kids to be able to play with, since we can’t touch ours.” ~Ali H. 

“I’m allergic.” ~Angela D.

“Don’t have one. Not gonna get one. My kids asked one year so I told them that because they fight everyday all day long Santa didn’t feel safe sending an elf.” ~Claudia G.

“My daughter asked why my niece and nephew didn’t have one and why they are at the store. I explained that when the parents buy one and you open the box, that’s when Santa’s magic makes it come to life.” ~Amber B.

“My 6 year old saw a picture of one and said ‘I want an elf on a shelf.’ I told him, ‘Why do you want one? The elf will just go tell Santa about your poor behavior lately.'” ~Alison J.

“I don’t I have any problem telling them it’s a game.” ~Jillian H.

“When my daughter was younger she used to think she was helping me by telling me about what other people were doing. We had long talks about tattling and how it wasn’t a good thing. When the Elf on the Shelf thing came up I said that we didn’t need one because Santa knows your heart and we didn’t need a Tattle Tale in the house.” ~Christine M.

“We had one for a few years. Last year it was a constant battle to find the elf to even move him. I told my 3 and 4 yr old that he didn’t come this year because they stole all of his magic by touching him so much. They think he is in the hospital at the North pole so Santa can fix him. (They came up with that part. I’m not that mean!).” ~Monica M.

“Last year one of my kids asked about it and were telling me about how their friends had one and it did whatever thing in the night. They asked why we didn’t have one. I told them the truth: because I don’t want to have to move it around. I tell them it’s just for pretend… and they know I don’t believe in Santa, even though dad does. Now we just don’t talk about it.” ~Kali B.

“My daughter hasn’t asked for one, she’s 6 and thinks they’re creepy! I’d probably say I don’t need an elf to watch her and report back to Santa because she’s already on the nice list.” ~Sarah C.

“I flat up told the kids it came from a book, is a marketing scheme, parents move them at night, I don’t have time for that, don’t tell the kids who have them, and look you can buy them at Target. You don’t need a monitor to tell Santa if your behavior is good, you don’t need the undue stress of messing up at the last minute as being a good, kind person will show long term, and so and so and so on.” ~Gillian G.

“No Elf on the Shelf here. I just said that Santa ran out of Elves this year and he’s on the waiting list for next year. HA!” ~Kate

“Both my girls, ages 4 and 6, know that Santa isn’t real — but that it is a fun game that lots of people like to play, and that some people really get into it, and we shouldn’t spoil their fun. So far, that has worked.” ~Heather G.

I don't want to do elf on the shelf -- I'm allergic!“We have twin elves Jax and Jinger who only come to see us once in awhile because there are lots and lots of kids in the world. More kids than elves so we all have to take turns hosting the elves. If a friend gets an elf on a year I don’t feel like doing it then we talk about how lucky the friend is and how cool it will be to share stories of what Jax and Jinger did while visiting us.” ~Colleen S.

“I do have an elf but I guess I’m using it wrong… she’s not here to report bad behavior, she’s here to see if there is something special they could use so she can tell Santa. She doesn’t act up, lol. She likes to watch the iPad with my daughters favorite stuffed animal, play with the doll house furniture with her dolls, brush her teeth etc. Oh and the no touching thing — grown ups can, this helped with worrying they were going to hurt her.” ~Danielle S.

“We have done Kindness Elves in the past, but are not doing Elf on the Shelf. I just say that not everyone has an elf visit every year. Not super exciting, but it works for now.” ~Aileen C.

“If our kids ever ask why we don’t have an Elf on the Shelf I’ll tell them it’s because they need to be good year round.” ~Alicia O.

I explain to my children that there are so many wonderful traditions and customs, but each family could not possibly adopt them ALL! We have several family traditions in place already (cookies, decorating, charity, music, etc.). Santa sees that we are preparing our home and our hearts for Christmas, and since an elf never showed up, he must think we are doing enough to prepare for the holiday!” ~Meghan F. 

“This is what I say for ANY difference in holiday happenings (No elf on the shelf, Santa doesn’t wrap our presents, more/less Santa gifts than another family etc.). “Every family has their own way of talking to Santa or his elves. Dad and I decided our family didn’t need an Elf on the Shelf (our presents wrapped, so many presents etc) so we told Santa what was best for our family.” ~Stephanie C.

“This is a phrase I use to explain to my kids or to others about why we do or don’t do something (no Elf on the Shelf, only breastfeed for a few months, have bedtime even in the summer, etc.) ‘This is what works best for OUR family.’ I also remind my kiddos that we have our own holiday traditions that other families don’t do. We do a 25 Days of Christ advent where we daily read a scripture and hang an ornament to go with it. And a candy advent from Grandma. And that’s what works best for our family.” ~Elena K.

I have a 4 and 9 year old. When my 9 year old asked why we don’t have one i played dumb and didn’t know how they worked. She told me you have to buy them from the store and the magic is what brings them to life.” ~Jamie S. 

“We have one. But I held out for quite a while. I simply said, Santa has to ask the mommas and daddys if he can send one of his elves. Some parents say no and some say yes.” ~Dayna B.

“My oldest asked once why we didn’t, and I told him it’s because mommy told Santa we didn’t want one to come to our house.” ~Megan C.

“My kids ask if we can go buy one and I tell them that although they have seen them in the store you don’t just go buy them. Santa actually sends them to your house and not everyone gets one. My kids are 9, 7 and 3.” ~Shauna W.

“We don’t have one because the cat would eat him, lol.” ~Elizabeth G.

“We just got one this year. When my daughter asked where she had been during the previous Christmas years we told her that Santa and his helpers are always watching year round and that she could have been at another house helping Santa with another kid. This is also our answer when she questions why some of her friends don’t have one… that elves are watching but some of them don’t let themselves be seen.” ~Michelle N.

“My kids are 7 and 10 now, but when my kids asked about one a few years back I told them we don’t need one since my job is being a stay at home mom and I keep an eye on them for Santa.” ~Lindsay R.

“If my daughter ever finds out about it from a friend, I’ll just tell her it’s a pretend tradition for other families and remind her of the traditions we have, like Star from Afar and the Advent calendars.” ~Lindsey A.

“I told my kids the elf didn’t want to come live here cause they can’t keep their rooms clean.” ~Jennie R.

“I have a 2 yo and a 4 yo, so I haven’t been peer pressured into it yet… I’m not planning on getting one. I’ve always told my kids that different families celebrate holidays different ways, and that some families have different rules than us. Hopefully that will be enough of an explanation!” ~Sarah L.

“I have a 3.5 and 1 year old so no asking for one yet but if I decide not to go that route I think I’ll say something like, “Every family has different traditions. We like to decorate the house, bake cookies, wear matching Christmas pjs, etc. Some families do Elf on a Shelf. Everyone is different and isn’t that great! What else do some of your friends do? What do you like about it? Should we start a new tradition that you can help establish?” Something like that.” ~Nina F.

“I told my kids as long as they behave I’ve asked Santa not to send one.” ~Grace D.

“I’m the elf. I see everything.” ~Emily J.

“My oldest is 7 and asked if we had an Elf, I said no he said why. I said ‘Well, that Elf sits in one spot all day long watching what y’all do, goes out in the night and tattles to Santa about anything he witnessed that day, comes back here and makes a mess. Do you want one in this house?’ They said No.” ~Kristen P.

“Momma of 5 here! I told my kids I am a believer of wooden spoon on their butt not some silly elf on a shelf!” ~Denise D.

“Tell the kids your elf left you an advent calendar instead!” ~Maria S. 

“We have a cat and told them the cat would eat the elf because it is small like a mouse. So far it has worked!” ~Heather D.

“I don’t have or want one and just plain say that we aren’t going to have one. My 6 year old had asked a few times and I just said no and so far she has let it go.” ~Tracy F. 

“I never even heard about ‘elf on the shelf’ until last year at my kids school. They don’t ask me to get one… my youngest is happy seeing his elf at school, and has never even asked me why why don’t have one… so no need for excuses at all here! (If he was to ask me though, I’d say his elf is at school… that’s where they see it!)” ~Stacie G.

“My son hasn’t asked about it yet, but when he does, I plan to tell him that I called Santa and told him we don’t need an elf because Jack is a kind boy and already does his best to make good choices.” ~Michele H. 

“Not for us. I will first try to explain to them that not everyone needs an elf. Sometimes kids are really well behaved so Santa doesn’t need to send a spy but that if they don’t keep behaving then Santa will know and if he sends a spy that means they’re almost on the naughty list. 
If that doesn’t work then I’ll tell them their elf got lost on the way here.” ~Kaitlyn P. 

“I don’t have one and won’t get be getting one. My kids are 1.5 and 4.5 and have never asked. My niece is 6.5 and asked why we don’t have one and I just said we don’t have it at our house, not all houses do (because she does have one). She was a little confused but I just left it at that. I want my kids to know that just because their friend has something doesn’t mean they will, that’s not life.” ~Liz M. 

“We try really hard to maintain a simple life so I won’t get one. I just told my kids I clean up enough after them, I’m not cleaning up after an elf!” ~Abby T. 

“Do NOT own one, will NOT buy one, but I DO have a plan hatched to make one disappear if someone brings one into my home.” ~Krista F. 

What did you/will you tell your kids if/when they ask you? Share in the comments to help other moms!

Alternatives to Elf on the Shelf:

Reindeer In Here — A reindeer plush meant to be a positive Christmas tradition that celebrates how each child is unique.

The Giving Manger — Brand new, started on Kickstarter. Add hay to the manger each day until Christmas, then add baby Jesus.

North Pole Ninjas — A storybook with plush “ninja” with a mission to carry out top-secret missions that are all about helping, giving, caring, and listening.

Angel on a Mission — A storybook about the first Christmas and guardian angels, with a “make your angel” project at the end.

Pop In Kins Elf — He and his sister come when your tree goes up and leave when it goes down. Fully posable and they love to play hide-and-seek.

The Christmas Cross Hunt — A 25 day advent activity devotional workbook

Hide and Hug Olaf — Need more Frozen in your life? Hide Olaf, and then find him and hug him. Repeat as necessary.

Elf Magic — A big set of super cute elves and accessories and animal friends — start with one and build the collection each year.

Uncle Si the Christmas Elf — A Duck Dynasty tie in, here’s a grumpy old elf dressed in green (ha!).


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