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What Every Parent Should Know About Social-Emotional Toys

What Every Parent Should Know About Social-Emotional Toys

One of the rather daunting – yet critical – roles of a parent is to help our children develop the ability to navigate their emotions. As far as I’m concerned, I can use as much help as I can get when it comes to my 5-year-old daughter and 18-month-old son, which is why I’m so grateful there are now many special needs toys, sensory toys, educational games, and developmental books on the market to help me teach my children important skills in a way they can easily relate to. Not only do educational and sensory toys make the social/emotional development process easier, but it also makes it far more fun and engaging for my children, which is totally a win-win.

Joe Glass, Zulily’s toy expert, noticed an uptick in toys and books of this nature.

“This year, we are witnessing a trend in toys that promote emotional development and healthy understanding of feelings,” says Glass. “Learning through play has always been a big focus for our toy collections, and through the years there have been great toys for counting and spelling. Now parents also want to help their kids discover and cope with their emotions through engaging, fun toys.”

Like me, there are plenty of parents looking for these kinds of tools for our children, too. Here are a few of Glass’s favorite examples of what you can find to add these kinds of toys to your kids’ routine.

Sensory toys vs. social-emotional toys

Learning to identify, regulate, and talk about feelings is a life skill that will help our children know themselves better (and more easily understand their place in the world), connect more fully with others, and live a healthier and more balanced life in general. Sensory and fidget toys may also help calm anxiety and soothe anger. For example, a fidget toy can act as a stress reliever by keeping their hands busy.

There’s an important distinction to make between sensory toys and social-emotional toys. Sensory toys tend to be emphasized for children ages 0 to 3 (though they can be relevant and helpful far beyond age 3), and they focus on teaching a child how we take in the world through our senses.

Though social-emotional development starts at birth, social-emotional toys are typically more relevant starting at the preschool age, when peer relationships start to really emerge. These toys help children navigate feelings, teaching them how to both communicate and understand emotions.

Kids (and Zulily’s Toy Expert) Love These 5 Sensory Toys

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Big Feelings Pineapple

Learning Resources Big Feelings Pineapple

The Big Feelings Pineapple includes 26 face pieces, which a child can use to convey different emotions on the pineapple. As a nice feature as it relates to emotional maturity, the pineapple has two sides, so it can convey two emotions at once.
Expressions Babies Set

Constructive Playthings Expressions Babies Set

Each of the six Expressions Babies in this set has a different expression on their face, so they communicate a separate emotion, which can teach kids how to understand their own emotions and others. They also include removeable sleep sacks so your child can practice their nurturing skills as they play with these babies.

What Are You Feeling Mirror

Constructive Playthings What Are You Feeling Mirror

By encouraging children to compare their own expressions to the faces on this Constructive Playthings mirror, this toy helps them learn to recognize different emotions in the faces of their peers and loved ones. It also helps them understand that facial expressions can communicate their feelings to others.

Slumberkins Plush Toys and Book


This brand was founded by two mothers who both have a background in family therapy and early education, and each Slumberkins creature comes with a book and a mantra to help children tap into various emotions and to give them support with a specific emotional theme (such as grief or building connections). I bought their authenticity unicorn for my daughter before she began kindergarten this year, and it helped so much with the transition. (Fun fact: Slumberkins has a show coming to Apple TV+ this fall! Be sure to check that out with your children for more social-emotional development support that’s fun and engaging.)

Supersized Sloth Hand Warmies


These sweet Warmies stuffies are designed to be warmed in the microwave to provide children with heated, scented, weighted support friends. These soothing toys are scented with lavender can help a child calm down so they’re then able to regulate their feelings – a helpful tool in that process, which can be a challenging one!

Visit Zulily’s Toy Shop to see what other kinds of special needs toys and emotional development toys and books are currently in stock (and keep checking back periodically, as more are sure to be added!). 

Zulily Toy Shop

About The Author

Anna Keller

Anna Keller, creator of, blogs about parenting, pregnancy, health & wellness, fashion, and more. Anna’s priority in all that she does – whether it’s with her family and friends, through her writing for brands such as Beyond Yoga or for the blog Triad Moms on Main, during her work as a Pure Barre teacher, or as a Beauty counter consultant – is connection. After all, from connection comes understanding, purpose, and joy. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, with her husband, Kevin, their 5-year-old daughter, Maggie, and their 18-month-old son, Vance.

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