holiday activities that promote SEL

Holiday Activities That Promote SEL

The festive season, with its twinkling lights, cozy gatherings, and warm traditions, is a time that families hold close to their hearts. In fact, two-thirds of families agree that spending quality time with loved ones is the true highlight of the holiday season.1

Yet, amidst the laughter and merriment, we can’t deny that the holiday season can also bring forth overwhelming and stressful emotions. That’s where our guide steps in. We understand the desire to create meaningful holiday experiences with your children where laughter is genuine and hearts are full.

We will show you how to navigate the holiday season by infusing it with social-emotional learning (SEL) activities to build resilience and empathy, enhance relationships, and develop overall mental health.

Discover the beauty of forging lasting connections, nurturing emotional intelligence, and finding balance amidst the holiday whirlwind.

Benefits of Promoting SEL During the Holidays

While the holidays may be considered downtime for relaxation and festivities, they also present a unique opportunity to incorporate SEL into your family’s celebrations. By infusing the holiday season with SEL principles, you can reap benefits that extend far beyond the festivities themselves:

  • Strengthened Family Bonds: Promoting SEL during the holidays allows family members to connect on a deeper level. Sibling relationships also become stronger, resulting in more harmonious family interactions.
  • Enhanced Emotional Well-Being: By engaging in SEL-focused activities, children and adults can develop the emotional intelligence necessary to manage their feelings, reduce stress and foster greater emotional well-being.
  • Increased Empathy and Compassion: SEL activities encourage understanding, helping family members become more empathetic and compassionate toward one another and those less fortunate.
  • Skill Development for Future Success: SEL promotes essential life skills, including self-awareness, self-regulation, decision-making, and conflict resolution. These skills not only lead to happier holidays but also prepare children for success in school, work, and life beyond.
  • Resilience and Coping Skills: Teaching children to handle challenges and setbacks with grace and resilience is a priceless gift.
  • Fostering Gratitude and Appreciation: SEL activities often incorporate gratitude exercises, which teach children to appreciate the blessings in their lives.
  • Positive Emotional Memories: The activities and lessons learned during SEL-focused holiday moments create lasting memories.

These benefits extend far beyond the holiday season, leaving a lasting impact on your family’s well-being and resilience.

Choosing the Right Holiday Activities

Selecting the right holiday activities to promote SEL within your family is a thoughtful and purposeful process.

  • Age-Appropriate Activities: Choose activities that match each family member’s age and developmental stage, allowing for progressive learning and adaptability.
  • Inclusivity and Diversity: Embrace diversity, celebrate cultural traditions, and use inclusive language and practices to promote empathy and understanding.
  • Incorporating SEL into Traditional Holiday Traditions: Reimagine your existing traditions to include SEL principles, prioritize open communication, and encourage mindful participation for a more holistic and enriching holiday experience.

This is a journey that will not only bring you closer together but also help each family member develop vital social and emotional skills that they can carry with them into the future.

Holiday Activity Ideas for SEL Promotion

Dive in and discover the joy of promoting SEL during the most wonderful time of the year.

Family Cooking and Baking

As a family, cooking and baking together is a delightful and hands-on way to promote Social and Emotional Learning (SEL).

When you prepare meals or treats as a team, you encourage communication, cooperation, and teamwork among family members. Tasks can be divided based on age and skill levels, fostering a sense of responsibility and self-awareness.

Moreover, the process of sharing, taking turns, and working through a recipe’s steps cultivates patience, self-regulation, and decision-making. As family members bond over shared meals or baked goods, they experience the joy of giving and receiving, promoting social awareness, gratitude, and empathy.

Gratitude and Thankfulness Projects

Thankfulness projects like creating gratitude journals, sharing daily appreciation moments, or making “thank you” cards, instill the SEL competencies of self-awareness and self-management. Gratitude activities encourage individuals to reflect on their emotions, recognize positive aspects of their lives, and regulate their reactions to daily events.

Expressing gratitude to others fosters social awareness and relationship skills. By acknowledging the importance of others in their lives, family members develop empathy, a deep sense of connection, and a strong foundation for healthier relationships.

Storytelling and Creative Expression

Encourage family members to create and share their stories, art, or poetry. Art activities facilitate self-expression, self-awareness, and self-regulation. Listening to each other’s narratives also promotes active listening, social awareness, and empathy, strengthening the bonds between family members.

Creative expression allows for emotional release and fosters responsible decision-making competency by exploring various perspectives and solutions through art or storytelling.

Volunteering and Acts of Kindness

Engaging in volunteering and acts of kindness encourages family members to develop a deep sense of empathy and social awareness. By giving their time and effort to help others in their community, they learn the value of kindness and compassion.

These activities also nurture responsible decision-making as they contemplate how their actions impact the lives of others and make choices that benefit the greater good.

Nature and Outdoor Activities

Spending time in nature and engaging in outdoor activities can significantly promote SEL. Playing outdoors also promotes physical health, reducing preschoolers’ obesity risk by 42% through very active play.2

Fun family outdoor activities such as building a snowman, bird watching, ice skating, and stargazing encourage everyone to connect with their surroundings and recognize their emotions and responses to nature. It also enhances self-regulation as they learn to adapt to changing conditions.

Game and Puzzle Nights

Games—board games or collaborative challenges—require teamwork, cooperation, and communication to succeed. These activities teach social awareness and relationship skills as players navigate competition, cooperation, and strategizing.

In Conclusion

As the holiday season approaches, we’re presented with an extraordinary opportunity to make it a time of not only celebration but also personal and family growth. By embracing SEL within your holiday activities, you can create memories that resonate for a lifetime.

At ThinkPsych, we strive to be your partner on this SEL journey. With our emotionally intelligent toys, kids can learn, receive inspiration, and become empowered to lead happier, healthier lives.

In the true spirit of the season, may your holidays be filled with warmth, understanding, and love. Happy holidays and a heartfelt wish for a SEL-rich and joyful time with your loved ones!


  • Two-thirds say spending quality time with family is the highlight of their holiday season

  • Combating Obesity in Head Start: Outdoor Play and Change in Children’s BMI

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