This Is An Elf Free Zone

Posted by on Dec 15, 2011

Parenting.  It’s hard.  Every holiday season I’m struck by the whole “naughty or nice” syndrome that takes over our culture.  In this article I explore the idea of parenting without punishment or reward, and explain why I think the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon is harmful to the self esteem of children.  To read the whole article, click here.



  1. Interesting read. Unfortunately, I find myself wondering about real world vs. alternate languages for punishment and rewards. I can’t help think of a scenario I saw this past week where a friend I was with gave his child a non-negotiable boundary. In this scenario he told his kid, I’ve asked you three times to not run into the street without looking, there is a danger that you could be hit by a car. If you chose to ignore the rules I set to keep you safe, I will have to take the basketball away. Inevitably his child ran into the street again. Basketball was taken away. When my friends wife inquired as to what occurred he told her that the punishment for his son not listening was that the ball was taken away. Coercion sounds a little strong for punishing a child who knowingly breaks the rules. In this example your suggestion would be to listen to the child’s needs and fears which undoubtedly would have not been able to grasp the greater risk involved. I think there’s something to your suggestion, but I’m not sure I’m completely with ya on the overall approach.

  2. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on the article. There is an aspect of Non-Violent Communication I didn’t mention in my article which is the protective use of force. The difference between the protective use of force and the punitive use is the intention. With the protective use of force I only want to meet my need – in the case you described above- to keep the child safe. So I may have to bring the child inside if he/she is unable to stay out of the street. With the punitive use of force, I am punishing to try and coerce behavior- in this case- to stay out of the street. The very interesting thing I see in your example is the threat of punishment actually did not work- the child went ahead and ran into the street even knowing that his basketball would be taken away. So the parent’s need to keep the child safe was not actually met. I can’t help but wonder what the need of the child was? For autonomy perhaps? I wonder if there was another way the parent could have helped this child get his need met?

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