Activities to help students manage emotions and reduce holiday stress

The holidays can cause overwhelming stress and anxiety for adults and children alike. Though this is true of every holiday season, due to increased isolation from loved ones, as well as unexpected economic hardships, the stress might be slightly deeper than years past. That’s why it’s important to offer students helpful tools and activities to manage emotions and overcome stress. 

Crafting activities to encourage giving and manage emotions

Balancing and managing emotions is beneficial for students on both an academic and a social level. After all, when students feel less stressed, they tend to do better on schoolwork and make stronger connections with peers. Activities, such as crafting projects, can help take their mind off stressful situations by channeling their energy into something more creative. 

Crafting activities can be anything from making holiday cards or decorations (like the examples shown below), planning and participating in a school-wide door or locker decorating contest to encourage collaboration, or even creating ornaments to give away as gifts. 

Use recycled toilet paper rolls to create fun holiday crafts to help students manage emotions and reduce stress.

Students can also express their emotions with activities like those found in Eric Gibbon’s book, The Emotional Color Wheel, or the “Exactly You! The Shape of Your Feelings” SEL and Art Activity Set. These activities help students convey their emotions through colors and shapes, which allows them to become more self-aware and better equipped to manage their emotions throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Scroll through the images below for a simple way to create a holiday reindeer card.

Ask students to write or illustrate their emotions

Writing is a great way to help students manage the ups and downs of their emotions—especially during the holidays. To give them a way to refocus their thoughts, encourage students to engage in reflective journaling with specific writing prompts or visual journaling by illustrating their emotions in a sketchbook. 

You can do this by asking students to include journal entries on what the holidays mean to them, asking them to describe their favorite holiday memory, or having them explain how the holidays make them feel. Allowing these thoughts to materialize on a page, either in words or illustrations, can help them better understand why they feel the way they feel—regardless if it’s excited, happy, anxious, stressed, or sad.

Writing or visual journaling are great ways to help students manage emotions.

Create a calming corner in your classroom 

Some students may feel completely overwhelmed from the busy holiday season—both at home and at school. Students who are extra sensitive may need an area to decompress and recharge. A classroom calming corner is a great way to help them take some time to relax, refocus their attention, and return to learning when they feel less anxious. 

You can equip your calming corner with sensory tools or fidget activities to help students expel nervous energy, or cuddle companions to help them feel comforted and more relaxed. 

Create a calming corner in your classroom to help students manage emotions.

Games and activities to help manage emotions

Another way to bring a smile to students’ faces during the holiday season is to take their mind off stress by hosting a classroom holiday party. Along with traditional, holiday-themed games, try including social-emotional learning games, such as Self-Esteem Bingo, The Coping Skills Board Game, or In a Jar® Game Set to help students identify and manage their emotions. 

And, of course, to add even more fun to your classroom holiday party, why not include a few gift-giving activities too? Though Secret Santa is always a classic choice for gifting, the White Elephant or Roll the Dice Exchange (see instructions below) are also great ways to help students enjoy the holiday season in a low-stress, fun-filled way that incorporates the self-management skills they’ve learned along the way.

Help students manage emotions by engaging in a classroom holiday party.

White Elephant Gift Exchange instructions

The White Elephant Gift Exchange is a fun holiday game to play during a classroom party.

Ask students to purchase one item from a regular store or a thrift store that costs $5 or less. The gift can be a funny pair of holiday socks, a knick-knack of some sort, a book, or just about anything that makes a small, simple gift. (Or, if you’d prefer an alternative to students bringing in gifts, you could supply your own with fun erasers and stickers, or maybe even coupons for free reading times, extra snacks, etc.)

To play the game, place all gifts on a table in the classroom. (Important tip: Make sure the number of students and the number of gifts on the table match up before the game begins.)  

  1. To start the game, write down numbers (one for each student in the class) on small pieces of paper and place them in a hat. Ask students to randomly draw numbers from the hat.
  2. The student who drew #1 will go first. They will choose a gift from the table and open it in front of the class. The student who drew #2 will go next, and so on.
  3. Any student after the first student to open a gift can choose to “steal” an already opened gift from an earlier student if they like that gift. When this happens, the student whose gift was stolen can then choose a new unopened gift, or take an already opened gift from another student. 
  4. This continues until all gifts have been opened and each student has a gift of their own.

Roll the Dice Gift Exchange instructions

The Roll the Dice Gift Exchange Game is a fun game to play during classroom holiday parties.

Much like the White Elephant Exchange, the Roll the Dice Gift Exchange begins with students bringing an already wrapped gift (like any of the examples above). 

Have students bring their gift and sit in a circle or gather around a table. The first step is to randomly determine who goes first—this can be oldest to youngest students, alphabetical, etc. Once determined, the first student will roll the die, take their turn and then pass the die to the left for the next person to roll. Rules include passing gifts, stealing gifts, choosing a gift to keep, or unwrapping the gift, depending on the rule assigned to the number on the die when it lands. These rules include:

  1. Keep your gift or roll again
  2. Trade gifts with the person on your right
  3. Unwrap your gift, if already unwrapped, roll again
  4. Trade gifts with the person on your left
  5. Steal any gift
  6. Everyone pass their gift to the right

Note: If a student rolls a one and chooses to keep their gift, they are no longer included in the game as they already have their gift. The game ends when all students have opened one gift.

Activities to help students manage emotions

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