The Random Acts Of Kindness Elf Challenge

“Mr. Hall has had a rough year, mom. That’s what Jake said. That’s why we need to be extra kind to him. He is going to LOVE this,” Kendall said as he put the finishing touches on a secret gift for our neighbor.



Last Saturday morning our elf made his return for the season. I know you might be thinking I’m anti Elf On A Shelf, but I’m not. I even enjoy watching all the elaborate set-ups my friends come up with for their kids. It’s a joy to watch their joy in doing these things.

Learn all about my love for Inappropriate Elves here.

Me, though, I’ve learned to edit my commitments to things like this, and then edit again. Each year since our elf Jake showed up 3 years ago, I’ve made his visit a little less elaborate, and a little shorter.

10 days. That’s all I can do right now. So he arrived on the 14th.


A few days before, I wondered what I would have him do for the kids. Should I try to do just a few funny, mischievous setups? Maybe he could bring them a new pair of socks and underwear each day? It would be funny AND useful. I have very little tolerance for non-useful stuff lately.

The first year, he brought Kendall a tiny new ornament EVERY. MORNING. I think that was rock-bottom of the hyper-new-parent-forcing-joy thing for me. Thank God Kendall was not old enough to remember that and expect it the next year when I had a 2nd baby and was less ridiculous more realistic.

This year I’ve been super sensitive to the entitlement around here. I can’t fault my 5 year old. For one, he’s 5. I think it’s natural for 5 year olds to mostly think about themselves. That said, 5 is plenty old enough to start learning to think of others.

I’ve tried talking to him about how fortunate we are, reminding him to be grateful for the things he takes for granted. Tasks to clean out toys to donate to the local shelter always lead to him negotiating and asking what’s in it for him. It is one of the biggest hot buttons for me as a parent.

If there is one thing my children will learn before they leave this house, it is to give from their heart to those who need it.

So on Saturday, Jake arrived with nothing more than a message on our iPad and a couple dollar bills. I will make this elf work for ME, dammit.


As we walked up to the woman collecting money for a local women and children’s shelter, hot chocolate in hand, it began.

“But I want hot chocolate, mom! Is she going to give me a hot chocolate if I give her one? What is she going to give me?” Kendall whined.

“It’s not about you, Kendall,” I calmly responded, not yet realizing this would become my mantra for this challenge and I would say it often.


He reluctantly posed for the picture, then gladly took the balloon sword she offered him. She was selling them for $1 donations, so the money they donated meant they both got one.

As I tucked him into bed that night, I told him I was so excited we were able to give the woman hot chocolate and donate money to her cause. He pouted because his balloon sword popped.

I sighed… then I set up the next day’s challenge, laying 2 Angel Tree tags next to the iPad and Jake.

We shopped for 2 kids from the local Angel Tree program the next day, and I spent nearly the entire time in Target repeating, “It’s not about you, Kendall. This is not for you. We are not looking for you. We are not buying for you.”

He whined, cried at one point, pouted, demanded I add the items we were buying for the kids to his Christmas list. I forced him to stand next to the tree and smile for a picture.


And then I pressed on, setting up the next day’s challenge after bedtime, and after popping 2 Advil. I had a fever, a sore throat. I was exhausted.

On the 3rd day, Jake challenged Kendall to bring some coffee to the people who work in his school’s front office. I drove to Einstein’s to pick up a gallon of coffee while Scott got him dressed. He drove him to school and helped him deliver everything. I was too sick to even try.

“Did you remember to get a picture?” I asked when Scott walked back in the door.

“Heh. Yeah. He was… thrilled,” Scott replied. I could tell he was wondering why I was even bothering with all of this. Honestly, I was starting to, too.


UGHHHHHH. I wanted to growl, but I took a nap, instead. When I woke up, I wondered if I was trying to force something that wasn’t there yet. I wondered if 10 days of random acts of kindness was too much for a 5 year old. I wondered if I was wasting my time when I was already short on it and would rather be nursing this cold.

But I couldn’t back out. Jake already committed us to this challenge. If I changed things up or just stopped altogether, I undermined Jake.

That night I set up the challenge for the next day- a donation to the local animal shelter. Jake asked us to buy a bag of dog food and deliver it.

“What? Dogs don’t have homes sometimes? But why? I love dogs!” he said as we drove to the shelter.


Dare I say, he delivered that bag of dog food with glee. We got to spend a few minutes with one of the canine residents, and he left telling me, “Maybe on Friday, instead of playing video games, we can come back here and play with more dogs!”

“Maybe,” I smiled back and wrapped my arm around his shoulder.

I knew the next day would be super busy, and the random act of kindness would need to be simple. Jake showed up with a plastic bag and a challenge to fill it with trash.

Kendall leapt out of the car at Target, “Oh! I see some, mom. Come on!”

We spent 10 minutes picking up trash along the front of the store before heading inside for some groceries. He skipped along, barely getting one piece in the bag before running off for another. I had to cut him off when the wind started to pick up and the bag was mostly full.


Today, Jake asked him to help me make a small gift for our neighbor and leave it on his door-step. He told Kendall that our neighbor has had a rough year, and that I could explain more.

I told Kendall that our neighbor, an older man, lost his wife this summer and now he’s really sick. (Last we heard, they thought he had liver cancer.)

I wasn’t met with any eye-rolls or exasperated sighs about how “this is going to be booooorrrring.”

“So we need to be extra kind to him, right mom?”




Tonight, my five year old and I put a soft blanket and a small gift card for a coffee shop in a gift bag. He wrote the card, and signed it “Secret Santa.”

We quietly snuck next door and crept up onto the pitch black front porch. We dropped the gift near the front door, then ran like crazy when we heard a dog barking inside. We gave each other high fives on our own front porch when we were in the clear.

Kendall beamed from ear to ear. “YES! WE DID IT!”

Tonight, I experienced the most joyous Christmas moment of my life… so far. We’re only halfway through our Random Acts Of Kindness Elf challenge.

Thank you, Jake, for showing my kid how magical giving to others can be, and for giving me the honor of watching him make the discovery.

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  1. Laura Phillips on

    I can’t wait to see what y’all do next! I don’t do the elf on a shelf- biggest reason being that I would screw it up/forget about him but you and another friend have inspired me to do the random acts of kindness elves next year!

  2. wonderful job. It must feel SO wonderful to help your son learn such important life lessons – and have him catch on! I got a little teary at the end there. 🙂

  3. This is purely fantastic Jill! I’m so glad my kids aren’t the only ones who’ve had to work at learning this concept. You make me think maybe I just haven’t tried the right giving project yet. Love these ideas for how simple they are.

  4. What a wonderful idea! I’ve always liked the idea behind Elf on the Shelf but knew that I would never remember to move it or have time to do all the stuff people do with it! But I love what you are doing and I think I am going to try it next year! Thanks for Sharing!

  5. Thank you for being so honest in your post. I have been struggling with this with my 5-year-old as well. I so admire your persistence. I had given up trying to sort through his toys to donate, so I did it when he was at school. Thanks again. Merry Christmas! Joy

  6. What a wonderful gift “Jake” giving to Kendall. My older children would have done well to have learned these. My toddler, when he is old enough, will definitely understand gratitude and the joy of helping! Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  7. Karie J. Pitts on

    This is the kind of ‘elf-ness’ I can get behind. So awesome-and so glad to know we are not the only ones who deal with entitlement issues at 5 years old!

  8. Sarah Skillings Makofske on

    LOVE THIS IDEA!!! I have been struggling with the whole elf thing with my 4 year old. This is perfect! Thanks!

  9. Amanda Kay Loney Campbell on

    We’ve never don’t the elf on the shelf thing. I’ve just never really gotten into it. If it’s ok with you, I am so stealing the ROAK elf next year. We always get two angels from the angel tree and my kids and so very understanding and really enjoy picking gifts for someone less fortunate than ourselves. After reading your story, I can’t wait to try this with my boys!

  10. I absolutely love this!! I feel your pain on the “me me me” of the 5 year old. I’m so glad to read it too as I constantly wonder how someone can be so selfish being raised in a home where we give to one another and others constantly. I guess it’s just who they are at this age but it is our job to teach them. This year we switched our Christmas lists to “Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read and something to give.” Our boys each chose to give clothing so we bought some coats and donated them to kids in need. I feel such an immense relief at not staring down the commercialism of Christmas this year, it feels right to have short lists and not 800 plastic pieces of crap just to feed into the “everything is for me” attitude.

    I think our elf might have to bring some tasks for the boys over the next few days. Thank you for the ideas. I’ve been modeling giving for my kids but it’s time they did a little more and they’ll listen to Daer the elf. So far Daer has been doing good for them (put up the christmas tree so we could decorate it, brought some food treats I rarely buy at the grocery store because they’re expensive, brought balloons on the 2 year old’s birthday, etc) and making them smile but I bet he can challenge them to give back.

    Thank you for the inspiration!!

  11. Hey, you made me cry on those last few sentences. I think it’s time for my 5 year old daughter to learn this. Lately her “it’s all about me” whine has been getting unbearable! She feels entitled to everything, it’s like something switched, she was a different kid just a couple of months ago.

  12. I love this, and have been inspired to do Random Acts of Kindness with my preteen daughter. Tomorrow when we visit my mom at the hospital after surgery we’ll take treats to the nurses’ station. Then we will have fun coming up with more ideas.
    This may be a weird question, but it looks like you all are in a Walmart but the bags are from Target- is it just me?

  13. Melissa Quilty Bixler on

    this is amazing and i cant wait to do this with my boys! good for you for hanging in there and showing them the real meaning of christmas!

  14. I had tears while reading this blog post today. I so admire you for planning this out for your children. The gifts that you are giving them over the course of these ten days will last a lifetime!

    I cannot wait until my daughter is old enough that we can do something similar with her.

  15. We did something similar to this in the Kindergarten class I work in…..we have a Kindergarten Kindness Elf that will move, but also includes a note with a prompt for a kind thing the class can do each day. Ranging from collecting food for our community (after a fire to the food bank) to keeping the class clean, or even just letting someone know why they are so special. Such a great twist on the regular Elf on a Shelf!

  16. Pingback: Baby Rabies | How To Get Your Kids To Want To Give

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