Sunday, December 15, 2013

ELF! Eyes Off My Child!

The Elf is on the shelf... NO! Not at my house, that thing is danged creepy! The Elf sits on the shelf in my son's 4th grade class.  This has created a host of issues.

About a week ago my 9 year old gets in the car and our conversation goes thusly:
Adam: Mom, there are some kids who have Elves in their house. 
Me: I've heard about that, what kind of Elves do they have? (already knowing the answer)
Adam: They are Elves that sit on shelves.
Me: What do you think about that?
Adam: I don't want that, promise me you won't buy any Elves to watch me. 
Me: Do you need someone watching you to make sure you are good?
Adam: No, you watch over me good. Those Elves freak me out, I don't want anything in the house that only comes to life while we are sleeping. Promise me, no Elves.
Me: I promise you there will be no Elves on shelves in our house. There may be some elves in some of our decorations but I assure you they are just decoration, like a figurine.
Adam: So it's like the cookie decorations, they look like cookies but they aren't cookies at all?
Me: Yes, exactly like that.

Then last Friday he comes home to tell me that he could not focus at school, he didn't learn anything. (We do daily discussions on focus because we are trying NeuroFeedback to help) I asked him why and he said that the Elf was watching him all day. He went on to explain that he needed to watch the Elf just in case he moved. He explained how the Elf reports to Santa and that he sometimes does naughty things in the night but he doesn't get in trouble for it.

Okay, lets deal with ALL that is wrong in that conversation one at a time starting with: WHY is there an Elf in the classroom?

In a time where Halloween parties are now Harvest Parties and Christmas parties are Holiday parties it seems to me that the idea of an Elf that reports back to Santa would fall under that umbrella. There are people in the world who do not celebrate Christmas, people who do not teach their kids about Santa Claus. I agree that the idea of Santa is now pretty far removed from any religious denomination these days but it does set up one of those "slippery slope" situations.

So first off, I was surprised that it was allowed in the classroom, not that it is directly applicable to the situation I have at hand though. My 9 year old has Autism, ADHD and Anxiety Disorder. The Elf is pretty much a combination of his worst nightmares. Not only is this thing 1) watching him 2) making note of him being "bad" and 3) reporting back to Santa he is also (and most importantly) 4) coming to life at only at night. We have had long discussions about figurines and transformers not being alive and not moving about the house at night and therefore cannot "get" him while he sleeps. We see a Behavioral Psychologist for this and this Elf has set us back.

So basically, my son is afraid of the Elf and cannot pay attention and focus while the Elf is present. He told the teacher he didn't like the Elf. It didn't help. He is currently behind grade level for most subjects and cannot afford to lose 2 weeks of instruction time for an Elf.

Additionally, his school is a PBIS School. Want to know what that is?
The school will focus on three to five behavioral expectations that are positively stated and easy to remember. In other words, rather than telling students what not to do, the school will focus on the preferred behaviors. Here are some examples from other schools:
  • Respect Yourself, Respect Others, and Respect Property
  • Be Safe, Be Responsible, Be Respectful
  • Respect Relationships and Respect Responsibilities

We learned Positive Behavior Reinforcement a looooooong time ago, it is drilled into my brain. Catch your child being good!  Praise! Praise! Praise! Be consistent with rules. Be predictable. Be timely. The Elf monitors behavior, thats it's job. But instead of reporting to Santa the "good" stuff, he is reporting the "bad" and in doing so is in direct conflict with the school's own behavior plan and goals.

So my plan was to march into the school and remind them of the above reasons and demand, like the Scrooge I am, that the Elves on shelves be removed immediately!!

But I did not.

That isn't to say that I won't but I haven't.

This is an unfortunate situation where I am reminded once again that the entire world cannot change to meet the needs of my child. I advocate, I spread awareness but most importantly my job is to prepare my child for the world, not the other way around. Luckily, we had 2 snow days and we talked about the Elf and we didn't talk about the Elf and we tried to make peace with then Elf. In the end there is a price to be paid for this, as there is a price to be paid for almost every concession made.

The price we paid was one piece of holiday magic. For him to not be afraid I told him the Elf was fake. It did not come alive, it does not talk to Santa. I showed him websites of parents who plan their Elf on the Shelf activities to prove to him that the doll does not move around in the night time.  I told him this was an "Adult Secret" and that I trusted him to keep the secret so that his friends may still participate in the Elf stuff.

Did it help? I think he still wants to believe in the magic, he will tell me what the Elf has done that day, last week he was mad because the Elf messed with his "girlfriend's" desk (thats a whole other topic!). He has mentioned a few times that he wish the Elf would not watch him and that he will be mad if the Elf messes with his stuff.  (I pity the teacher who tries that one!) Is the issue resolved? No. Is it fixed? No. Is it being handled? Yes, to the best of my ability. I talk with him about the Elf as much as he wants and we handle each issue one at a time. He has missed instruction time and I don't love the Elf but since we have a pretty big IEP meeting on Wednesday, I'm going to save my fighting for that time. (And I'm pretty sure it's going to get ugly!)  The last day of school is Friday and the elf will be no more and I will cheer!

And now a story and picture. Here is Adam visiting with Santa at The Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees, thankfully they had special hours for patients and students so we were able to attend without the massive crowds. Initially both boys said that they didn't want to visit Santa then when we were almost done Adam tells me that he did not want to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas, he merely had a question.  So we got into a short line and watched as other children sat on Santa's lap and told him their wish list. I frantically gestured to my husband to be ready with the camera to capture this moment (I don't have any pictures of my kids with Santa, they have NEVER wanted to do it).

Adam was ready to go, he stepped right up and stood about 3 feet away from Santa and would not go any further. He put his hands out and asked his question, "Santa, have I been naughty or nice?". Santa assured him that he had been nice while looking past Adam to me with obvious confusion. Adam said, "Thank You" and walked away. Had I given it 2 minutes of thought, I could have probably guessed this was how the interaction would go. It was just so Adam and so perfect and made my entire day.

So... as our Christmas cards say, "No matter how many tries it takes... Have a wonderful holiday!"


  1. I can't even imagine how terrified he must have been with that creepy elf watching him, and how much it distracted him having to keep his eyes on the elf instead of doing his school work. Poor kid. How did the IEP meeting after that go?

  2. Btw, I looked up the website on PBIS schools, sounds great! How do I find one?

  3. The IEP that followed this post was just the beginning of an on-going process. He is behind, I'm trying to figure out just how behind he is which is becoming difficult since curriculum and benchmark testing has changed 3 times since he started kindergarten (he's in 4th now). There is no consistent data for comparison but I'm still requesting it all... Since then I've also had an informal meeting with one of the higher up members of the Special Ed department who has requested evaluations for interventions, assistive technology and further special ed evaluation. We have a recent neuropsych evaluation on file so compiling that data plus the benchmark data and the findings of all these additional evals should give me a better picture of where we are. This is going to be a long process, I wrote this post in December, we've had 2 IEPs and 1 informal meeting since then. Once all the data is compiled there will be another, larger IEP with all the consults in to present their findings.

    As for finding a PBIS school, I honestly don't know. PBIS is a standard of achievement for a school and school district, it is adopted by the school board or counsel and involves participation by everyone who works within the school.

  4. Great post. Here's a thought from the other side- the teacher's. I used to have a gnome in my classroom that was dressed in my college's colors. It was ugly and creepy but part of my huge collegiate collection. I had a student tel me that it freaked him out and would turn it around every time he came into class. I laughed it off and did t give it a second thought. What if it had been your son? I might not have known or appreciated the horrible effect it was having on him. I can't speak for your child's teacher, but I can tell you that I would've welcomed and appreciated a call or email letting me know what was happening and I assure you, the gnome would've been gone. We can't fix what we don't know. Many of us never heard the word "autism" while getting our degrees. We're trying to learn and sometimes we make mistakes but we want your help. Educate us. As an aside, those elves are wretched!