Elf On The Shelf: When Parents Tried To Get Their Kids To Enjoy The Tradition But Possibly Scarred Them For Life

By Anni K January 3, 2024

This article was originally published on whythese

If you’re not familiar with the elf-on-the-shelf tradition some families partake in during Christmas, you’re in for a treat. Family members, usually a single designated person, move the little elf doll to different spots in the home to entertain the young ones.

The tradition became widely accepted in homes without children to entertain because adults also have fun with that. Every year, someone will move the elf and put it in compromising, silly, and hilarious positions. Then, they post some photos on social media to let their followers join in on the fun.

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t work out the way they plan. The adults try to get kids to enjoy the tradition but the results are definitely not what they expected, as you will see in the list of fails we’ll show you below.

Double-Check Your Art

When you’re painting letters in the color red, it is crucial that you double-check your art a little bit later to ensure no runny red paint is dripping from the letters, making it seem horrifically creepy, especially when it looks like blood. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@elfgilbert

This parent decided they wanted to paint a little reminder for their daughter Ellie that Christmas was only 16 days away. However, the result looked like the elf on the shelf was telling Ellie that something awful would happen in 16 days instead. Oops!

What Will The Neighbors Think?

This adult thought it would be a good idea to tie the elf up as if it was swinging from the chandelier and getting up to something fun. And it kind of worked. Its little face makes it terrifyingly cute, and the plan was well executed. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@c_r_ali

But when this parent decided to check the elf from the window, they noticed it looked much worse from the outside! It looked like the elf was hanging by its neck from the chandelier, not its little body – wrong message, guys!

Bad Kitty

This one is not the adult’s fault for trying to place the little elf in an interesting position. They created a make-believe scene of snow, using some fine sand, and made it look like the elf was making snow angels. Technically, it was a cute idea. 

Image courtesy of facebook.com/Katie Wright

The problem is that the family cat thought the sand felt too familiar and had to go number two on the counter. At least the cat proved that it has good manners. Now, the owners have to train it to use the litter box instead of relieving itself on anything that remotely resembles sand.

Never Hide Things In The Oven

It is a cute idea to hide things in the oven. But let’s face the facts: whenever you pre-heat an oven, you rarely check if anything is inside it. Who’d think that there’s a toy inside the appliance? So before you pre-heat the oven around Christmas time, check twice. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@randomkcv

The adult who placed these poor elves in the oven thought it was an amazing idea. Well, it kind of is. The thing is, they forgot to let the other adults know about this. The scene turned horrifying and hilarious when someone pre-heated the oven and melted the elves!

Just Like Dad

This little elf suffered at the hands of its owners when they tried to place its hat back onto his head using super glue. Unfortunately, the glue didn’t work, and the parents tried to remove its remnants with nail polish remover. 

Image courtesy of Reddit.com/u/RoscoeDC

They didn’t realize that the elf’s “hair” was just paint and the acetone in the polish remover could ruin it. The result was this bald-looking elf. They used this to their advantage and made the elf pose with a hair clipper. 

Everyone Is Entertained

Cats are known to throw things off counters and yank at dangling strings. They can also be known for giving a hanging elf a good whack at Christmas time. We’re glad the entire family, including the pets, got a good laugh out of this one.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@mochi_momo_oc

We’re not sure if the elf was intentionally put up this way, but it seemed like the cat didn’t like the setup. It hated that the elf was there, so the cat gave it a piece of its mind and rearranged the decoration by taking the elf down. You’re welcome, mom!

It’s Supposed To Be Snow

This is yet another snow angel mishap. From far away, the sitting elf looks like he’s committed a horrible crime and is grimly smiling about it. But if you look a bit closer, you’ll see this is actually colored sugar that an adult thought could pass as snow.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@pixiee83

This scene is supposed to look like two elves having fun with mom’s baking ingredients, but instead looks a bit criminal. Hopefully, the kids are old enough to laugh about this instead of getting scared about what an elf on the shelf could possibly do to them.

A Permanent Message

The first half of this photo is actually pretty cute. After waiting a whole year inside a box in the basement, the elves finally got to see the light of day once more. That’s why they’re saying they’re back. While it seems inoffensive, the adults didn’t expect the result.

Image courtesy of thesun.co.uk

It’s essential to remember that spray-on snow contains some harsh chemicals that can stain your wood flooring and leave a lasting impression. In this case, it left behind a message that will sound pretty ominous for those who don’t know the context!

Shame Game

This poor elf suffered at this adorable dog’s hands, or rather, teeth. The other elf in this photo is kneeling in shock next to its little friend. The cutest and most hilarious part of the picture is the shame sign the dog is wearing, though it doesn’t to regret what it’s done. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@tamcam10

These parents could have improved this photo by adding some fake crime scene tape. It would’ve been the cherry on top. Anyhow, we’re pretty sure this family laughed a lot when they saw this scene. We’re glad this person shared the picture online.

It’s a Cheeto

At first glance, you will not see anything wrong with this image. It’s just a tiny elf enjoying his favorite snacks, Cheetos, and in his favorite team outfit, right? But if you look closely (or take a quick glimpse), you’ll definitely have some questions.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@carriehoppenjans

Honestly, we don’t even think we have to mention what’s going on here. We can all see the same thing, right? And before your mind goes there, note that it’s just a Cheeto that fell on a rather suggestive place on the elf’s lap.

Creepy Impressions

If you’re looking for a fun and creative way to put your toy elf on display, you should definitely skip this one. While it’s a hilarious idea, it doesn’t work if you have kids in the house. Instead of finding it adorable, the kids will be horrified.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@mom_of_3_great_kiddos

You can totally see why it’s creepy, right? It’s no wonder why the kids hated this and were freaked out. Let’s just hope the kid can sleep peacefully without wondering if there is a creepy character hiding in his beloved toys. 

Sleepy Elf

For an elf, posing in different ways for almost a whole month is not easy. This mom got distracted doing other chores and left the little elf on the counter face down. The kids woke up to see the elf lying in that ominous position.

Image courtesy of Facebook.com/Karen G. Quiroga

Mom immediately told the kids the elf was just tired and taking a well-deserved nap. She didn’t want the kids to get scared as they wondered if the elf was still breathing. Let’s only hope she wasn’t too late in coming up with an excuse.

Piano Fail

In all honesty, we see don’t see this positioning of the elf as a failure; it kind of looks like the little elf was deliberately positioned as if he wanted to play a song and got trapped, which is hilarious and cute. But we get why this sight would give the wrong impression. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@janetfreisner

This family wanted to position the elf as if it were lovingly playing a Christmas piece to the kids. The problem is that it looks like it got horribly squished in the process; luckily, it is only a little doll with no real feelings. You’re good!

Elf Emergency

Some families hang their elves from lightbulbs. The problem with this positioning is that the elves are made of fragile material, and the lightbulbs can get really hot. The elves’ position will be cute for a minute before the plastic material will slowly melt away. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@lilyslittlecupboard

Unfortunately for this elf, a very specific part of its body melted – or burned – away. We’re also sorry for your injuries, Bob. Luckily, his owners were kind enough to patch him up. Maybe now the kids won’t get so scared.

That’s Not Part of The Scene

What can we say? Dogs will chew on things that look like toys, especially if placed close to where they would find their other toys. For this Boston terrier, he got caught by the camera right when he was about to run away with the elf.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@the_sloaneharlowburkett

You can’t really blame the dog for mistaking the elf for one of his toys! Trying to yank it would result in a decapitated little elf or an injured dog, so the parents had to wait it out and hope it wouldn’t get chewed to the point of no return.

Latex Elf

Getting anything into balloons is hard enough, not to mention a soft and quite large elf doll. This parent tried to get the elf in the balloon to make a cute display for their kids. But she was less than halfway through when she encountered problems. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@skyeleaa

The balloon wasn’t stretchy enough to fit the entire elf in, at least not without other tools to help this parent, which they didn’t have. The result was that the elf looked like it was suffocating in a plastic bag, which is not a very good sight for young and fragile minds. 

Leave Me Out Of This

While some people love the whole elf-on-the-shelf tradition thing, others hate it. And to show just how much they despise it, they try to make the poor elf pose in the most gruesome ways that they can come up with.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@elisejanelle

Luckily, neither the bearded dragon nor the elf got hurt when tasking this picture. Judging by the reptile’s face, it shares its owner’s feelings toward the Christmas tradition. Well, the elf still looks like it is in one piece, so at least there’s that.

‘Tis But a Scratch

Another fatality caused by a lightbulb! This time, the elf lost a whole limb, which caused this mom to want to throw it away. While we understand where she’s coming from, there is potential to create one last outfit and scene for this poor elf. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@thawthorne11

The injury looks pretty bad, and we feel kind of sad for laughing at this poor elf. Maybe there’s some way to patch him up? If not, the parent could dress him up in a hospital gown and possibly warn the kids about the dangers of playing with lightbulbs!

Birth of an Elf

This parent actually managed to get the elf-on-the-shelf into a balloon. However, they chose an awful color and a low-quality balloon that deflated overnight. When the kids woke up, they were faced with a bizarre and gross-looking sight. The pic is blurred for obvious reasons.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@dzintrasullivan

They wanted to make it look like the elf was having a great time partying inside this balloon, But due to its off-color and the fact that it deflated, it looked like this elf was about to hatch from a biological sack. That’s just weird!

Bathroom Mishap

You have to know that when you have pets or small children, you can’t place things in certain places and expect them to stay there for an hour or even the whole day. Things are bound to get knocked over at any given moment. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@sowhatimamum

That’s just what happened in this photo. The parent set the elf on the toilet, most likely to remind kids to wash their hands and stay on Santa’s nice list. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for their toddler to drop the elf inside the toilet.

Modular Elf

We all know that puppies are naughty little animals that must be trained, or they’ll eat or rip apart everything in their sight. The puppy that got a hold of this little elf didn’t know any better and thought it was a toy they could play with. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@msummers23

This was the result. It was certainly a traumatic scene for the kids to wake up to, but hey, at least each child gets a piece of elf to play with. Now you can hide the elf in more than one place? We’re out of ideas on how to fix this one. 

Turn the Situation Around

We’re lucky that this person documented every stage of this elf’s misfortune. At an initial moment, the elf looked like he was hanging from the kitchen ceiling with the help of some candy canes, perhaps even referring to an acrobat or circus performer.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@brandi_cerone

But things went downhill pretty quickly for this elf. It didn’t hold up in its initial position and fell right into a pot of dirty dishwater. The elf was rescued, and the humans wrapped it in a towel to keep him warm after the accident. We wish the little guy a speedy recovery! 

Frost Bite

This elf has another burn wound due to being too close to a lightbulb, but luckily the parents noticed quickly that he was slowly burning and saved him in time. The elf is still fully intact; the only problem is that it was left with a burn on its face. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@kellyjyust

The parents’ solution was quite brilliant and means they can still use the elf every year. They told their small kids that the elf suffered with frostbite on his way back from North Pole. That is a very believable story for young kids, right?

Oven Mishap

If you didn’t realize it by now, do not hide things in the oven. Even if you think you can try and convince yourself that you will remember to take it out, trust us; you won’t. The only thing you’ll do is traumatize the kids if you try this.

Image courtesy of Instagram/@a.mums.world

When the kids woke up, they ran straight to the kitchen so they could check on the elf. Well, it suffices to say that the kids didn’t like what they saw. Instead of enjoying this tradition, it will take a while for these kids to recover from the shock.


Sometimes parents do things they think are funny. The problem is that sometimes they don’t think things through. For these parents, their elf-prank went a little bit too far, resulting in some tears when the kids woke up the next day. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@sgomuwka

They made it look like the elf was naughty and drew on their faces while they were asleep, which seemed harmless. However, both kids were scared of the elf and wanted nothing to do with him anymore. Luckily they didn’t find out it was actually their parents or else they’d be really mad. 

Keep Warm

It seems like a lot of people are placing their elves too close to lightbulbs. This results in the elves getting burned. Luckily for this parent, their elf was salvageable. They only had to add a little scarf accessory to hide the scar.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@melbrookins14

You would think it is a design flaw that they melt so quickly, but really it seems like these elves are designed to melt rather than shoot up in flames when exposed to heat. A lot of homes would burn to a crisp if they didn’t melt. 

Secure Your Elves

When you hide your elves on high places and surfaces, make sure to double-check that they are well secured. Sometimes, even a simple breeze can knock them down and result in a tragedy, much like what happened to this elf.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@annikaskye89

The elf sat on a curtain rail and got knocked over, and when the family dog got a hold of him, it was over for this elf. What is funny is that the dog was quite the picky eater and only nibbled on the forehead and ears of this elf before getting bored.

No Open Flames

Perhaps the sillier thing than putting your elf next to a hot light bulb, or even in the oven, is placing it anywhere close to open flames. We’re not sure what this parent was thinking, but surely they should read candle warnings. 

Image courtesy of Facebook.com/Teresa Tangen

“Never leave candles unsupervised” is the warning on most candles, and that should be logical that you shouldn’t place it close to anything flammable and leave that combo unsupervised. This home could have burned down. Luckily, no injuries or burns were sustained. 

Active Scene

Thank goodness this parent got a snapshot of the crime as it happened. Their kitten thought this elf was a threat, and they needed to secure the house, so it promptly got to work. The cat was just ensuring it didn’t get away from him. How scarily adorable…

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@sugar_and_ginge

Poor elf! It seems like these little guys will go into retirement as soon as they can because they probably can’t stand all this suffering anymore. Luckily for the elf, the cat is only munching on its hands, so it’ll likely escape without major injuries.

The Criminal

How can you be mad or disappointed in this dog? Just look at its sweet,innocent-looking little face. It’s almost as if this dog is saying, “I don’t know where the head of this elf came from or how it even got ripped from the body!” 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@chitasticdolly_rex

This dog owner got a perfect picture of the guilty party responsible for the elf’s demise and the elf’s remains. That’s some great timing! Now the next question is: where is the body? We hope it is not inside the dog! Yikes!

This is Mine Now

We’ve said it before, and we’ll repeat it: secure your elves and keep them out of the reach of your pets! Luckily, this parent didn’t get mad at their dog for nibbling on the elf since it wasn’t out of its reach and so the dog wasn’t wrong for feeling rightfully entitled to it. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@tillyandfozzy_spoodles

It looks like this is the end for the elf. The dog will soon make its way up to the elf’s head, and it will be gone forever. Some people who are against the creepy elves might be praising this dog for doing a good job!

Accidental Candy

This idea was super cute, but the execution and results were not so appealing. It looks like this elf had way too many blue drinks the night before and vomited it all on his little body—chunks of marshmallow and all. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@swinter2780

The parent made some fresh cotton candy and tried to make it look like the elf brought the kids some yummy icy blue candy from the North Pole. But then the whole thing melted, and it became a huge mess. We doubt the kids will like that.

Why Would You Do That 

We get that some people want to place their elves in the bathroom to encourage everyone to wash their hands, but just make sure to give them privacy. Why would you position an elf to make it seem like it was going number two on the toilet seat?

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@brittanysfontenot

Honestly, the whole sight is pretty gross. Though we kind of hope that this wasn’t intentional. If we had to guess, we’d say that this poor elf was hanging from the ceiling and was unlucky enough to fall into the toilet.

What A Mess

If you haven’t figured out this hot mess of a photo, it is supposed to be two Barbie dolls and the elf fishing for some fish snacks using their straws as fishing poles. It’s messy and gets worse the more you look at it. 

Image courtesy of Facebook.com/Justin Carver

We don’t really get this scene. First of all, you’re supposed to hide the elf, aren’t you? If so, this person did a horrible job because there’s literally nothing hidden here. Also, why waster all those delicious snacks just for this random pic?

Special Effects Makeup

Talk about a smoky eye! This elf was yet another victim of lightbulbs. Parents, please stop hanging your elves from the lightbulb! This poor guy’s face slowly melted and got burn scars on either side, giving him a grim and dark look. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@christinebunn

You could say he was doing his eyeliner and tried to make them equally thick until this was the result. For a kid, this seems a bit far-stretched to believe. Better to just toss this one in the trash and call it a day. 

Call an Ambulance

These poor little elves must have a terrible trauma of lightbulbs! This was another case of a burnt elf. Hopefully, this is one of the last burn victims since the message about the dangers of lightbulbs must have caught on by now.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@the_tao_of_jh

After this parent placed the elf on the lightbulb, it melted his tiny legs. But the lightbulb also suffered the consequences and exploded! Instead of throwing it away, the parent hid the elf inside the broken lamp. We don’t think their kids will find it anytime soon!

Excuse Me?

This next one is a cute idea: writing a message on the mirror using toothpaste and setting the elf up to make it look like he was naughty and wrote on the mirror. But remember, showers are hot and create steam that makes toothpaste melt. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@erinhawe

This parent wrote “be good!” on the mirror with toothpaste, but another family member took a shower before the kids could see the message, and the steam caused it to slide down the mirror. It looks a bit creepy and like a big waste of good toothpaste. 

Gingerbread House Meltdown 

Gingerbread houses and elves go together like peanut butter and jelly. They are both full of Christmas cheer and usually involve the whole family. But make sure you to build a strong structure for your gingerbread house or else this may happen.

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@insta_armydelk

The elves are super light, but that little bit of extra weight was clearly too much for the gingerbread house to handle. If you want to try this one, you better get some high-quality materials. You definitely don’t want to explain to your kids why it looks like a hurricane went through the elves’ house.

Blow Up

We’re not sure what this mom tried to do, but the idea might be as big of a failure as the end result. The green gunk on the elf’s behind is a deflated bubble from blowing a piece of bubble gum. What were they thinking?

Image courtesy of Twitter.com/@AmCo711

Bubbles made from bubble gum won’t last for a long time the way they do in movies. They usually shrink very quickly for various reasons. So why this mom decided to stick a bubble to his behind is beyond us, but the deflated bubble looks like some weird substance on his butt, yuck!

Shaving Cream Spelling 

Sometimes, people do things without thinking them through. Writing on mirrors with shaving cream is one of those things. We sincerely hope this was a parent who was just a bit tired and didn’t think too much about it rather than a parent who thought this idea would actually work. 

Image courtesy of Instagram.com/@lschultzy23

Shaving cream starts out nice and thin but expands rapidly into a fluffy foam for you to shave with, so the lettering will never work with shaving cream in this small space. Maybe it was their first time putting this idea to the test.