For weeks, my two sons have been begging me to get them the ‘Elf on the Shelf.’ For those that don’t know, the Elf on the Shelf is a doll that watches over your boys at night and reports back to Santa Clause if they were naughty or nice.

The catch is that once the Elf is on the shelf (or curtain rod, or bookcase) you cannot move it. It is stuck there until the middle of the night when he magically appears somewhere else in the house. It’s a pretty ingenious idea. Or so I thought.

Because of the Elf on the Shelf I had to use the Five Step Hard Style on my 4 year old. (That’s a communications technique we use as police, when dealing with difficult and noncompliant people.)

Tonight, my 4-year-old, Owen, was being what parents would call ‘sassy.’ He was not listening to his mommy or daddy. It was bedtime and he did not want to go to bed.

He tried everything in the book to stay up, but daddy was holding firm. Surprisingly, daddy was being very calm and patient.

Finally, after 40 minutes of pure tantrum by Owen, Daddy said, “Owen. I would like you to go to bed now.” Owen looked puzzled and screamed, “Noooooo!”

Daddy took a deep breath and said, “Owen. I would like you to go to bed because you need to wake up early for school and if you don’t go to bed now the Elf on the Shelf will report back to Santa that you are not behaving.

Owen looked around and yelled, “The Elf on the Shelf is on the curtain rod in my bedroom and he can’t see me. He doesn’t know if I’m being naughty or nice!”

Daddy had nothing. Daddy had asked very nicely and set context as to why Owen needed to go to bed. It was time to present options.

Daddy said to Owen, “Ok, Owen. You are correct. The Elf cannot see you, but we have some good options here. If you go to bed, the Elf will be able to see the clock in your room and he can report back to Santa that you went to bed on time. If you don’t go to bed, the Elf will know that you are being naughty because you are not in your bed at bedtime.”

Owen looked up and said, “No!” But something happened. Owen thought for a moment about what I had said. He wasn’t yelling any more, but he wasn’t going to bed either.

At this point, I knew I had him thinking so I said, “Owen. Is there anything Daddy can do or say that will make you go to bed right now? I’d sure like to think there is.” Owen looked up at Daddy and said, “Yes. If you snuggle with me.”

Needless to say, Daddy melted at those words and happily went to snuggle with Owen.

A word to the wise for all Elf on the Shelf owners: Always place the Elf in a position of advantage. Don’t limit your options by placing the Elf in a room that has no view of other rooms. Kids are very smart and they will manipulate the Elf!

Merry Christmas!

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Bill Singleton is a police officer for the City of Milwaukee in the Community Services Section. Bill received his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice from UW-Oshkosh and his Master’s Degree in Dispute Resolution from Marquette University. He is a consultant for Verbal Defense and Influence.

Singleton is a police representative with the Violence Prevention Initiative and developed the Students Talking it Over with Police (STOP) Program now piloted in Milwaukee. He is a longtime youth coach and mentor.