Find the best toys, games, and products for nurturing social-emotional skills in your child and creating a peaceful loving home.
What makes this guide to social and emotional learning tools and toys different?
- They all have research-backed benefits for your child’s social and emotional development
- They’re from companies that invest in environmental sustainability
- They’re practical, minimalistic, and will stand the test of time (no cheap garbage)
- They’re classic and often multi-purpose (aka it will live in your home for many years)
Sensory play items for fun AND calm
The Inspire my Play Sensory Bin is minimalistic, durable/practical, and timeless. It comes with features that make it useful in unlimited other situations (art projects, small toy containers, etc), and will for sure be one of the rare items you keep around for 10 years.
It’s designed to be suitable for wet and dry sensory play, safe for edible sensory play, easy to clean, and portable.
Sensory play is so vastly important for helping to meet our child’s emotional and physical needs.
Not only is it calming and regulating on a high-stress day (or month… ahem toddler and preschool parents), but it also soothes your child’s nervous system and helps them to develop vital sensory pathways in their brain.
If your elementary-aged kids are anything like mine, they are stright-up slime obsessed. The downside? Mess. mess. mess. The upside?
Certain slimes and putties are amazing for providing your child with calming sensory input (calming proprioceptive input to be exact).
The Discovery Putty for Kids from Fun and Function is my favorite after trying Dozens of varieties. It comes with small items that encourage manipulating the putty in a way that will provide good sensory input, and… it’s so fun!! (I steal it from my kids on occasion)
“The Purrble companion was born from a collaboration between the Committee for Children, a 40-year-old nonprofit and global leader in social-emotional learning, and the creators of Second Step and The Imagine Neighborhood, and Sproutel, play-focused research”
Our black kitty Bruce consistently moves near my 10-year-old whenever she is sad or upset and falls asleep with her at night. I’ve seen with my own eyes the power of animals for calming and regulating our nervous systems.
Related read: The Best Family Bonding Activities for Christmas
If you’re not ready to deal with litterboxes, and pet hair all over the furniture, this is your child’s next best option for cuddling with a co-regulation buddy.
For non-toxic sensory fun and artistic creation, I recommend BioDough Natural Dough which is scented, is made of organic food-grade ingredients and is available in 9 gorgeous colors and scents using food-grade colors and fragrances. Toddler clay stimulates kids’ visual, tactile and olfactory senses. Perfect for kids’ arts and crafts.”
Family Bonding Goodies
Adventure Challenge Family Edition – We’re gifting this book/set to our kids this holiday season and I can’t wait to start the fun!
“Obliterate boredom, break out of ruts, discover new favorite traditions, and create those “laugh so hard your face hurts moments” that you’ll tell stories about for years.
Our kids grow up too fast! Let’s create fun, lasting memories that bond us together with them. The goal of The Family Edition is connection through new experiences.”
Family game nights are my favorite for making scheduled family bonding time FUN!
I’m a big fan of games that are simple to learn, silly/hilarious, and accessible for all (or most) ages.
Not Parent Approved is a fun card game for older elementary-aged kids, tweens, and teens that has won dozens of awards for its ability to engage and connect families through humor.”
Other games that will be a hit for family bonding game night:
What Do you Meme Family Edition: This is a great game for families with children at all different ages. The best part is hearing the creative hilarious things your child comes up with when seeing the goofy images.
Taco VS. Burrito a strategic family-friendly card game was created by a 7-year-old, but it is fun for players of ALL ages!
Sussed Wacky Conversation Starters is a game you don’t play to win, but to learn more about your family and friends. What I love about it, is you can bring it along anywhere to find moments to connect and have fun (out to eat, waiting for the dentist, etc).
Gifts that boost Physical Health (which is directly connected to emotional health)
Integrative health simply seeks to treat the whole person (not just a symptom of a larger issue) and nurtures the vital mind/body connection.
There are very simple integrative health practices you can do each day to help improve your child’s mood, energy, and emotional well-being.
The key to integrating these habits with your kids? Make them fun, visually appealing, and engaging.
These surprisingly low-priced Koodee Insulated Water Bottles are the best all around for beverages and kids (you know they’ll get lost so let’s just accept that now and save ourselves the trouble).
Dehydration has been shown to decrease focus/cognition and cause fatigue which affects mood and performance.
They come in 3 different sizes, almost any color, keep water cold, hot chocolate hot, and are minimalistic and easy to clean. Boom. Sometimes (a lot actually simplicity rules).
This Essential Oil set for Kids from Rocky Mountain Oils is far from woowoo… the sensory benefits and plain to feel and observe.
What you may not know, is the brain areas responsible for smell (olfactory processing) overlap with those responsible for emotion and memory and the chemical messengers in the nasal cavity have direct access to our brain’s emotion center.
Essential oils have the ability to both up or down-regulate your child’s nervous system depending on what their current needs are (and after tons of research, in my opinion, Rocky Mountain Oils have the best quality + price combined).
The Book Get Your Dragon Some Healthy Food from the popular My Dragon Series, is a great book to start talking with younger kids about food as fuel and the impact it can have on how their day goes.
For older children, a great option is the book Are you What You Eat? by DK books. “Kids learn to see their food as more than just taste, learning things like which foods will make you sleepy, how to tell if you’re hungry or full, and why our bodies need nutrition.”
Is it just me, or are most Bento Boxes overcomplicated and annoying to manage? Well, here’s one that’s not.
Your child is what you eat. Increasing the consumption of real foods with quality nutrients can go a long way in improving your child’s ability to pay attention, feel calm, and manage emotions and behavior.
This cute 4 Compartment Bento Box (with a slot for utensils) keeps things basic but has almost perfect reviews because of it.
Tools for Emotional Well-being
These books and journals are favorites and are sure to boost your child’s emotional intelligence and emotional well-being without them having a clue they’re even learning.
The kid’s journal collection from Promptly Journals is the most stunning I’ve seen (and I’m a journal junkie;)
They have any journal your child could ever benefit from including parent-child journals, travel journals, and sibling bonding journals.
The Color Monster Pop-Up Book of Feelings has amazingly awesome pop-up illustrations that immerse your child in sadness, happiness, or excitement.
This book provides beautiful visuals for depicting emotions that will help your child to learn and internalize the sometimes abstract concepts within our human emotions in more concrete ways.
In My Heart: A Book of Feelings is a sweet hardcover book for kids ages 2-12 that provides beautiful metaphors for each emotion.
This All-in-1 Wooden Art Set will have your child’s creativity flowing in no time. Open-ended expressive art (aka not the planned organized crafts they often do at school) is a powerful way to express emotions and calm stress and anxiety.
Not to mention the myriad of benefits art in general has on your child’s emotional health.
Smart Girl’s Guide Books by American Girl are simply fantastic for elementary and middle school-aged girls. We have the entire collection which includes, Friendship trouble, Dealing with Emotions, Understanding Your Body, Drama, Self-Confidence, Crushes, etc.
Find Bedtime Calm for better sleep
When a child doesn’t get enough sleep or has their sleep disrupted this affects both neurotransmitters and hormones posing to impair thinking and emotional regulation skills and underlying many child behavior problems.
Renegade Kids Mindful Bedtime Flashcards will help your child put bad thoughts and bedtime anxiety to rest.
These cards are beautiful, calming, and most importantly, empowering. They help your child sow the positive thoughts that will then grow more positive calming emotions leading to a peaceful night of sleep.
The Sivio Glow in the Dark Weighted Blanket for Kids hits all the marks, it’s soft, fun, and affordable. Weighted blankets can be very regulating and calming for little bodies and minds at night.
The Adventure Challenge Bedtime Adventures Book will have your child asking for bedtime! This is such a fun engaging way to allow your child to work through bedtime emotions via connecting with you and playing!!
(As a child therapist, this makes me want to do backflips!)
For younger kids, The beautiful growing collection of Slumberkins animal and book sets continues to impress me. These were created by a therapist and teacher, and scratch almost every social and emotional itch there is for your child.
“Slumberkins Snuggler products include a stuffed animal plush creature, affirmation card, and a fully illustrated storybook set which make ideal baby shower and toddler birthday gift sets for girls and boys from 0 months to 5 years that entertain, teach, and comfort.”
Goodnight Yoga- A Pose by Pose Bedtime Story “This beautifully illustrated, full-color book tells the story of the natural world as it closes down for the night while teaching children a simple flow of yoga postures inspired by their favorite characters from nature”
Harness the power of Nature
“This high-quality Science Kit for kids supports STEM Learning and encourages scientific outdoor exploration and a love of nature. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for that young child that loves to play outdoors and explore nature, this is precisely the set for you!”
Kids Flower and Leaf Press Children will have fun pressing and drying their favorite plants and flowers with this kid-friendly flower press, A great way to get your child outside and practice mindfulness by noticing the tiny beauties surrounding them.
Other parenting articles you’d love: