Use Elf on the Shelf to Teach Social Skills

If you are looking for a way to encourage your child or client to work on building social skills like manners or making friends, you can use the popular Elf on the Shelf dolls this holiday season.

The idea is to pick a social skills area that the child needs to work on. You can pose Elf in different locations and positions and give Elf a note with instructions for skills the child can practice that week. Alternatively, parents can use their family’s Elf to help the child practice a skill each day of the holiday season. The child will enjoy looking for the Elf each time, as well as receiving her assignment. Once the child opens the letter, the therapist or parent can discuss some ways the child might complete the assignment that week. Although some may be pretty straightforward (say “Please), others might lend themselves to more discussion in session (e.g., Ask someone a question about themselves). For these tasks, the more details the child can plan , the more likely she will be to actually do the assignment.

Here are some examples of different social skills areas and activities that could be included in the Elf’s assignment letter. You can pick one a day, a couple each week, or however many you think would be reasonable for the child to practice.

Say “please” 3 times today
Say “thank you” 3 times today
Ask someone how they are doing
Hold a door open for someone
Make eye contact and smile 3 times

Ask someone to play with you
Offer to share a toy or snack with someone
Ask someone a question about themselves
Make a friend a card
Phone or message a friend
Compliment someone
Introduce yourself to someone new

Helping others
Give a gift to an elderly friend or neighbour
Offer to help someone with something
Donate to the food bank or give away something you don’t need
Cheer someone up with kind words or actions

Family Relationships
Do an extra chore
Play with a sibling, pet, or parent
Say I’m sorry for one mistake you made this week
Tell a parent or sibling about one feeling you had this week
Give a family member a hug or high five
Ask a family member politely for help with homework or another job

You will want to know what your client’s holiday traditions are. If a family does not celebrate Christmas or would be offended by the use of a Christmas elf, you will want to choose another activity. However, you do not have to use the Elf on the Shelf backstory at all. I know I don’t think it is my place to be telling a client that an elf is reporting back to Santa on her. I prefer to just use the doll as a prop in session. For example, you could explain the activity like this:

“This is Cookie. She is my Manners Elf and she is going to help us work on good manners for the month of December. Each week you will find Cookie in a different place in the room. She will have a note with a special job for you to do during the week. When we meet again, you can tell me how it went and then Cookie will be here with your next assignment.”

I hope your clients will enjoy the hunt for your social skills Elf. Feel free to share your activity ideas in the comments section. Happy Holidays.

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Carey EmmersonUse Elf on the Shelf to Teach Social Skills

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