Best emotional and social development toys

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Toys for emotional and social development

Toys help kids grow, learn, develop intellectually, and thrive physically. Everyone knows that play is crucial in developing gross and fine motor skills, strength and coordination, and much more.

But what about emotional development?

Play should also enhance social competence through verbal and nonverbal communication and develop emotional regulation by allowing children to respond to feelings, conflicts and perspectives of their peers.

Social play begins with parallel play and develops throughout various life stages. During parallel play, babies and toddlers sit happily alongside one another but don’t interact except very rarely. As associative play emerges, toddlers begin to share play objects but still often play separately. Soon, this will develop into full on cooperative play, which continues to develop as children mature socially.

emotional development toys

Appropriate social and emotional play has long been considered helpful by developmental psychologists in helping a child learn to grow, develop and thrive. This will give them a strong foundation for their social competence and independence. It also develops verbal and nonverbal communication, appropriate body language, channeling of emotions in productive ways, and promotes self-confidence and teachers them to adequately deal with their peers’ feelings and conflicts that arise. Give them daily opportunities for emotional growth with these emotional development toys and you can give them support to grow, learn and develop their emotions.

What are the best toys for emotional development?

5 opportunities for emotional growth come from play that encourages role playing and social interaction in various ways.

#1 Parallel Social Play
This is when children play adjacent to each other, but do not necessarily interact of influence one another’s behavior. Around the age of one, they begin to develop an interest in what other children are doing, which is an important building block for later social play. However this type of play continues to be important, such as when children work on craft projects together. 
Friendship Bracelet maker
Seedling Butterfly Wings
Lincoln Logs

Best emotional development toys - emotional activities for autism

#2 Interactive Social Play 
Appropriate social play will teach kids to interact with the world and people around them.
Play sets
Playhut Mega Fun Play Tent
Pacific Play Tents 6′ Find Me Tunnel
TP Spiro Hop

social development toys

#3 Role Playing
This type of play not only allows kids to activate their imagination and creativity, it also allows them to observe the world through another person’s lens, setting a base for the development of empathy and emotional understanding. 
Aeromax My First Career Gear
Step2 Lil’ Chef’s Gourmet Kitchen
Melissa and Doug Deluxe Puppet Theater

toys for social development

#4 Turn based Social Play
Games that encourage turn taking, and playing attention to others are essential for healthy social exchanges. This can include anything from passing a ball to board games and card games. 

social play toys

#5 Competitive play
Sporting toys as well as competitive games help kids learn to socialize, take turns, share and play fair.
Word Around

Toys for personal development

Other toys that assist your child to grow, learn and properly understand emotions.
Hape International Eggspressions
Little wooden eggs with role playing activities teach kids to read the emotions of others.
Stages Learning Language Builder Emotion Cards
Cards with real life examples facial expressions from kids and adults of all ages invite discussion about feelings and their motivations. Activity booklet with detailed activity ideas help kids relate to one another.
Kimochis characters have their own personality as well as 3 feelings pillows that teach emotional concepts.

social development toys for toddlers

Characteristics of a good emotional development toy:

-will help to develop strategies to recognize emotions as they arise, and implement methods to properly deal with them
-demonstrate or reinforce a way to behave in a socially acceptable manner
-assist them in making positive self-management decisions
-encourage imitation in order practice empathy and new emotions
-inspire conversations about different emotional reactions and where they can be appropriately used
-help them build meaningful connections with peers
-benefit a child’s personal, social and emotional journey
-assist them in developing an individual identity and social positioning
-help the child to feel secure, safe and comforted in their environment
-guide appropriate social interactions

All of these ideas are a fantastic opportunity to sow the seeds of social play and empathy. Remember, parents still need to get down on the floor and initiate play for young kids. For awhile, keep a close eye on parallel and associative play and be prepared to intervene if necessary. Before you know it, kids will be developing social skills and play-dates will become more hands-off.

Childhood Stages of Social-Emotional Development
as described by the developmental psychologist Erik Erikson

toy with emotions - toys that help kids learn

Trust or Mistrust?
The child either develops trust, security and basic optimism; otherwise he may develop insecurity and mistrust.

Autonomy or Shame? 
The child develops a new-found sense of self-control, and feels proud rather than ashamed.

Initiative or Guilt?
A child may develop imagination and cooperation while broadening their skills through active play, fantasy, and role-playing; otherwise becomes fearful, remains on the fringes of social groups, relies on adults for guidance, and is hindered in the development of play skills and imagination.

Industry or Inferiority?
The foundations of formal life skills such as relating with peers, following rules, favoring structured play to free play, teamwork skills, and academic/learning skills including social studies, reading, arithmetic are developing.

Identity or Identity Diffusion?
The question of “Who am I?” begins to emerge, and children and adolescents begin to question their identity and what that means. Minor delinquency or rebellion may emerge as experimentation.

Working early on social-emotional development can instill independence, initiative, and industry in a young child from the beginning. By selecting proper emotional development toys, parents can promote the early adoption of crucial life skills!

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emotional development for children
Parenting advice is given only as a suggestion and is not a substitute for consulting with your healthcare provider. No aggregators or algorithms – all of the best emotional development toys on this list are hand picked! Please make sure to confirm manufacturer recommended age and other warnings on all products. We may receive commission from certain affiliate links, which allows you to support our site’s mission at no additional cost to you. You can read our full disclosure here. We strive to bring you the best!