Elf on the Shelf Rules Explained for Novice Parents

Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition that sees parents moving an Elf on the Shelf (also known as a "Scout Elf") around the house every day to keep an eye on children ahead of Santa's visit.

These elves scout out kids' behaviors in the lead up to Christmas and report their findings back to Santa to help him write his naughty and nice lists.

The Elf on a Shelf character originated from the 2005 children's book by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell.

The elf can be purchased as a toy to be used by parents in the Elf on the Shelf tradition and ensure their kids are earning their place on the nice list.

Here are some simple rules to be aware of when carrying out the Christmas tradition.

The Rules of Elf on the Shelf Explained for Parents

The Elf Needs a Name

The name tends to be something silly and cute, such as Chippey, Snowflake, Fisbee or Buddy.

...And Appears Around Late November

The elf usually makes an appearance in the home from the end of November or early December, according to the "Elf on the Shelf 101" page of the "Santa's North Pole" website run by the Lumistella Company.

The Elf Must Not Be Touched

Considered the most important rule, the Scout Elf must never be touched (of course, apart from when the parents move them around) as that will cause them to lose their magical powers.

In some cases, they could also disappear when touched, such as when a dog might get a hold of them.

In such cases, where an elf may be in an urgent situation or other sticky place (such as falling off a shelf after losing their balance), parents can touch them (using tongs or kitchen gloves) to come to the elf's aid.

Their Powers Can Be Restored

According to "Elf on the Shelf 101," if a Scout Elf was accidentally touched, their magical powers can be restored via one of the following methods:

  • Writing an apology to Santa for the accident: This is considered "the most effective way" to help get your elf up and running as normal.
  • Sprinkle a little cinnamon next to the elf: "Cinnamon is like vitamins for your elf," the website says.
  • Sing a Christmas carol with your family: Since elves love singing, the Christmas cheer will restore the magic of the holidays back to the Scout Elf in no time.

You Can Talk to the Elf

Scout Elves are great listeners and kids can communicate with them by leaving written messages to share their wishes and secrets.

They Only Move When Kids Are Sleep

Parents will want to set an alarm as a reminder to move the elf before their kids wake up each morning and avoid forgetting to do so.

...And Must Leave Before Christmas

The Scout Elf must be sure they return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve in order to help Santa prepare for Christmas.

Elf on a Shelf float in NYC.
A giant Elf on a Shelf balloon floats down Central Park West during the 2018 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images