Since its debut in 2005, the Elf on the Shelf has been perplexing parents and kids alike.
But, while kids are marveling at just how their scout elf manages to fly to the North Pole, report their behavior to Santa and get back in time to make "snow angels" with flour on the kitchen counter, parents' issues with the tiny red-clad creatures are a bit different.
What happens when you're already in bed and you realize you've forgotten to move the elf to its next destination? How do you balance wanting to bring some Christmas magic into your home with being too busy to spend hours staging elaborate poses for your Elf on the Shelf? What do you do when you're overwhelmed by Pinterest-worthy images in your social media feed of other parents' elf set-ups?
Yahoo Life asked Amanda Mushro, a crafty content creator and mom of three, to share some of her top tips for creating simple elf displays that are sure to make kids of all ages smile.
Mushro has three Elf on the Shelf scout elves who help keep an eye on her kids, Aaron, 12, Lyla, 10, and Dylan, 2, during the Christmas season.
"We originally started out with just two elves," she tells Yahoo Life, "but when the baby came along ... we ended up with three whole elves that we have to figure out where to find them every single morning."
For parents who are stumped for good elf ideas, Mushro shares her three favorite simple ways to stage Elf on the Shelf for her own kids.
Make dry erase magic
During elf season, Mushro says a dry erase marker is a parent's best friend.
"You can use [the marker] on a mirror or you can use it on the glass of a picture frame and you can write or draw anything," she says. "Or what I like to do is draw silly faces on my kids' pictures and act as if the elves have done it. It's so funny, and all you need is a little glass cleaner and it comes right off."
Repurpose your food storage containers
Mushro says her kids often ask to take their elves along on family adventures. The creative mom found a great way to accommodate their request while keeping the elfin magic alive.
"If you know anything about the elf [kids are] not allowed to touch the elves," says Mushro. "The elf will lose its magic. Our elves showed up in this magic container from Santa: It's also known as a plastic container from Target."
To create this magic-saving scene, Mushro says to place elves inside the containers and leave kids a special note from Santa himself.
"[The note should say] Santa heard you're going on this special adventure and he wanted you to take me along with you," she says. "So kids can hold onto their elf, and all of their magic is intact."
Throw a hot chocolate party
Using a slow cooker, hot chocolate and marshmallows, parents can create a cute setup that shows Elf on the Shelf relaxing in a "bubble bath."
"It's not officially the holiday season until you have hot chocolate," Mushro says. "So your elf can take a bubble bath and in this bubble bath he is floating around in some marshmallows. You put it in a Crock-Pot or a bowl and leave out some hot chocolate."
"That's also a fun way to give a fun little gift where maybe the elf leaves some hot chocolate that the entire family can enjoy," she explains.
Mushro says she and her husband, Aaron, spend between $150 and $200 each year on Elf on the Shelf supplies. While that number may seem high to some, Mushro says a large part of her shopping list includes small gifts for the kids, like Advent calendars or holiday pajamas, that are brought by their elves.
And, she says she tries to keep her time commitment each evening to a minimum.
"When it comes down to time," she says, "10 to 15 minute tops is all I'm willing to spend and can spend rearranging the elves every night."
What advice does Mushro have for parents who feel pressured to do more with their elves?
First, realize the Elf on the Shelf struggle is real.
"It always happens around this time of year, that we'll log onto social media and we'll start seeing all of these elaborate Elf on the Shelf ideas by these moms and dads, who've come up with these amazing ideas or they trashed their house or they've spent a small fortune," she says. "It can be really overwhelming for parents."
To combat elf envy, Mushro says to sign off of social media and think about what's most important.
"Don't look at those different ideas and just focus on your kids," she says. "What makes them happy? What makes them laugh? What works for them? As long as it's entertaining your kids and you're making these special little memories with them, that's all you need."
"You don't need the Instagram-worthy posts," she add, "you just need to make your kids happy during the holidays."
– Video produced by Stacy Jackman.
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