Emotional Development Toys

Today, I’m excited to share information on emotional development toys that you can add to your emotional skills toolbox! Occupational therapy toys are used to develop skills through play and emotional development is just one of those areas. Toys and play are powerful tools to teach children about emotions. Add these emotional skills toys to support social emotional learning in kids.

emotional development toys

Emotional Development Toys

When you take a look at social emotional skills, there is a lot to it! Emotional development contributes to one’s ability to regulate behaviors, participate in learning or social situations, make and keep friends, and management of emotions in everyday situations. Also, social emotional development is a precursor to learning and has been linked to academic performance.

Here are more friendship activities to use as well in promoting development of these skills.

Emotional development occurs from a very young age. In fact, social emotional learning develops from infancy!

This site has some great graphics that break down development of emotional skills by age.

Social Emotional Development Examples

When you think of emotional development, you probably think about a child’s ability to react and respond to situations with emotional maturity. But, in fact, that part of emotional development occurs much later in childhood. Social emotional development looks like many things leading up to emotional maturity!

Emotional development examples include things such as:

  • Facial expressions in response to interactions
  • Positive attachments at the infants and toddler stage
  • Eye contact (but not always an indicator for all children)
  • Identifying different expressions in others
  • Identifying and labeling emotions based on words, expressions, actions in others
  • Identifying emotions and feelings in self based on situations or responses to situation
  • Paying attention and using self-control
  • Expression of a variety of emotions
  • Copying facial expressions
  • Uses words to express feelings
  • Empathy for others (with sequential progression through the stages of empathy development)
  • Having and recovering from temper tantrums
  • Pretend play with emotions
  • Using and identifying a variety of emotions
  • Making friends
  • Social awareness
  • Positive self-image
  • Healthy self-talk or inner voice
  • Managing emotions
  • Emotional regulation
  • Asks for help when needed
  • Impulse control in social situations
  • Identifying emotions in the situation and responding with functional regulation strategies

How to support emotional development

There are many ways to support social emotional skills using emotional development toys and activities. Some examples include modeling emotional regulation and strategies a child can use. Using describing language to put words to emotions and feelings is another strategy parents can use to support emotional development.

One important way to support a child’s social emotional skills is through play.

Play and emotional development

Through play, it is possible to identify emotions, practice emotions, model interactions, and show empathy. Play offers the chance for children to practice skills in a “safe” environment.

Try this free social emotional learning worksheet with children to help them identify emotions.

Children can learn so much about emotional development through play! Try these strategies to use play as a medium for developing social emotional skills:

  • Use imaginative play to practice emotions and responses- Imaginative play offers a variety of situations where emotions, feelings, empathy, and responses can be practiced. Practicing emotions, language, and regulation strategies by playing “house”, doctor, school, shopping, pretend kitchen, or pretend construction, or any other pretend play environment offers so many opportunities for development of skills.
  • Play games to build emotional skills- Games offer children the chance to win or lose, where they can respond to that status in different ways. This offers a great opportunity to talk about expectations, impulse control, attention, turn-taking, expectations, and responding to other’s wins or losses.

A printable set of emotions play dough mats can be used to build emotional skills in kids, through play.

  • Read books to support emotional development- Books offer a chance to put yourself in another’s place. Reading books with children offers an opportunity to open up conversations on how a character acted in a situation and what the child might have done in that situation. It’s a great way to practice social responses, empathy, and self-regulation strategies. Here are great children’s books (and fun activities based on the books) related to social emotional learning:

Exploring Books Through Play uses children’s literature as a theme to engage in fun, hands-on activities that help children and adults delve deeper into the characters and lessons, bringing the stories to life and falling further in love with literature. Read a story and then bring the characters to life while learning and building skills. Each story offers unique activities designed around central themes of friendship, empathy, and compassion.

Each chapter in Exploring Books through Play includes 5 activities for each of the 10 children’s books. The activities are perfect for children ages 3-8, can be used in small groups or as a whole class, and are easily adapted to a home or classroom setting.

  • Talk about choices, emotions, and responses in play- Using play as a means to work on development of these skills. Play offers a chance for children to make choices and opens opportunities to practice sensory regulation strategies for emotional responses.
  • Use emotional development toys– Toys that offer a way for children to identify facial expressions, practice empathy in imaginative play, and the opportunity to practice regulation are powerful tools.

Want to help kids learn more about complex concepts such emotions, empathy, compassion, and differences?

Whatsitsface Emotional Development Toy

Recently, I came across the Whatsitsface plush toy on Instagram. This emotional development toy helps children develop emotions through imaginative play. Kids can adjust the moveable parts to change the toy’s facial expression and practice emotional development skills through play.

Kids can practice their understanding of emotions in a safe and interactive way. Whatsitsface allows children to put emotions into a language they understand and provides a chance to practice management of emotions.

The plush emotional development toy has 6 different facial expressions that children can easily change themselves in two different ways.

Check out the blog comments below to learn about reader strategies for teaching children about emotions and emotional development.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.


181 thoughts on “Emotional Development Toys”

  1. I absolutely love using books to help with emotional development. They are such a great resource, but I love to learn new strategies and tools to help children develop the necessary emotional skills to become healthy, happy, and successful human beings. This plush toy would be a great addition to my toolbox to help the children!

  2. I do a lot of role playing and demonstrating how different emotions look. Also we do situation cards about how each situation would make us feel. This toy would be great for those younger kids who have difficulty with understanding the complexity of emotions.

  3. I frequently use the Zones of Regulation chart to have students identify their “zone” and then ask them to give me a word or description of why they are feeling in that “zone.” We normalize all the emotions since they are part of the human experience and many of my students initially think that it’s not ok to feel angry or sad, for example.

  4. I’ve been using Kelly Mahler’s Interoception curriculum combined with Zones and find it super effective!

  5. I have been using The Zones of Regulation visual chart and having the children act out different emotions.

  6. I love to use many different strategies to teach emotions and emotional development using kid-friendly short videos, such as Monster, Inc., play emotion bingo, play emotion charade, etc…

  7. I definitely do role playing with my kids. We play out different scenarios and address the different emotions that play along with it.

  8. Playing out situations with the kids are helpful. In the moment I address make sure I drag out emotions, social cues, feelings, etc so the kids get the point.

  9. We do role playing as well as describing their feelings and modeling in the moment. Many of our students also regulate at the beginning of each day by using visuals to tell us how they are feeling.

  10. I love to use well known characters to help with the Zones of Regulation! This is especially helpful for virtual sessions, where I can show short clips from shows or movies that the child likes, and have them identify which emotions they see, the size of the issue the character is facing, and judging appropriateness of their response. I find this technique particularly helpful for children that are shy or need support to warm up to me; seeing characters and clips that are familiar to them often helps them feel more comfortable and excited for OT sessions!

  11. I use emotion boom cards, stories, and I have an emotion calendar with different colored bears to help them identify their emotions. My favorite book Is My Many Colored Days by Dr.Seuss.

  12. I try to explain emotions through books, the zones of regulation, and drawing faces. I have recently introduced descriptive words to describe emotions as well!

  13. Some strategies I use to teach children about emotions and emotional development include consistent practice of identifying emotions through visuals and using zones of regulation terminology. Getting in the practice of identifying emotions at the start of the day has helped kids generalize this skill and identify their emotions spontaneously at other times as well!

  14. I have been eyeing these toys for a while! I work with special ed students in preschool and lower elementary. Most of my students are working on self regulation goals. We have been using stories and modeling. I use the Zones of regulation to do a check in and talk about our emotions and when we might be in different zones. I model strategies we can use to get back to the expected zone for the situation.
    This would be an amazing addition to our activities!

  15. I have never seen these! They are so cute! I love, love Zones of Regulation! I’ve had amazing results compared to other strategies I’ve used in the past.

  16. First I work on having kids match pictures of facial expressions while introducing the emotions associated with them. Then we read books, watch video clips, and play different games where I try to elicit different emotions to help them understand how their body feels and looks with different emotions.

  17. I love these toys they are so cute. Children learn best through play, and these would be great to play out feelings, and learn emotional regulation. I have used books and zones of regulation in the past but am looking for more ways to add play to learning. Love the great tips thanks

  18. I have 3-5 year olds. I’m working on red and green with zones of regulation. I have pictures, prompts, and colors for all 4 zones in a spot in my room.

  19. I use a lot of books, google images of animals and people, and games to help work on emotion identification. This toy looks so cool!

  20. I hadn’t seen these either. They are adorable. I have used a combination of social stories, books, role playing, zones of regulations and videos – depending on child’s age and needs.

  21. These items are new to me. I can see a lot of potential for using them through play. Reading, role playing and imaginative play are the three main ways I would use these. They look wonderful.

  22. I use the zones of regulation chart for my grandson. He has memorized each zone and tells me where he is on the chart so we work together to calm down when needed.

  23. With my girls I do a lot of modeling and having them notice emotions of other people around us. When we see other kids at the playground I have them look at their faces and ask, “How do you think they might be feeling right now?” Using books, recognizing signals in our body, and relating emotions to events we have experienced are other ways. I would love to have these dolls to incorporate more play to build their self-regulation.

  24. I love using Zones of Regulation, social stories and the Mind Up program. Its important to adapt to the child xognitive development. I really need one of these toys!

  25. I use a large collection of books suited to various levels of development and language skills – the interactive books are a favourite e.g. where the child has to physically attach the right expression to a characters face based on the scenario??

  26. I use the the zones in the classroom and loads of visuals. The zones were very successful last year and super easy to incorporate with parent support at home. Conscious Discipline has been successful also.

  27. I use the zones of regulation and also now have them identify their zones during tele-therapy session and then use a strategy from their tool box at home. I use books to help student identify emotions about others.

  28. Social skills groups, role playing, Zones, social stories, etc. When kids can better understand what is going on and how they can self-regulate, they see the power they have and the lightbulb moments are awesome.

  29. I love using puppets and stuffed animals to help teach emotional regulation to the younger, PK students I work with. I love the idea behind Whatsitsface and the changing facial expressions. For the older students, The Social Thinking Program and social stories are my favorite go-tos.

  30. Would love to share this with teacher on campus who works with several students with emotional difficulties and putting a visual to those emotions they feel but can’t name or understand.

  31. Emojis are actually a great, simple and familiar way to use with children/students before, during or after sessions to show how they are feeling.

  32. We do a lot of discussion of emotions in the context of the four Zones of Regulation. It’s okay to feel any and all emotions, but we focus on what you do with those emotions – how you react and respond to situations. We use a lot of role play or written scenarios to discuss big or small problem (with a fantastic flowchart from “Your Kids OT”), expected vs unexpected reactions, and tools to assist.

  33. I use the Zones of Regulation, but this would be so nice for my children with severe cognitive delays that the Zones curriculum is way to high for.

  34. In my school, we use Second Step curriculum and it focuses a lot on emotions: facial expressions, feelings, what do do with those emotions, etc. We role play different scenarios too.

  35. I use a variety of things depending on the student I am working with. I use Zones, Interoception, and various other tools.

  36. I am a huge fan of the Zones of regulation, my students pick up well in the colors and use the appropriate vocabulary with each color. They are able to generalize this skill and transfer it to other classrooms and teachers.

  37. I have my nonverbal students draw pictures of themselves or the situation to help express what they are feeling.

  38. Hi! I am a parent of a little one who gets OT (as well as PT, DV, & SLP). To help my LO identify emotions we use our reflections in a mirror or any other reflective surface. I make a face for my LO to mimic (if E can’t it’s okay) then I say how I’m feeling when I make the facial expression.

  39. I love using several different techniques in identifying emotions. One of my favorites is to give one student in the group a card with an emotion on it and they have to act it out for others to guess how they are feeling.

  40. This looks great to help students with identifying their emotions and helping them to stay regulated in order to participate in school activities. Thanks for sharing this resource.

  41. I incorporate Zones of Regulation activities into my treatment sessions and educate the parents/family on how to integrate it into the home as well. We work on recognizing emotions/regulation states and practicing with different scenarios.

  42. I incorporate Zones of Regulation activities into my treatment sessions and educate the parents/family on how to integrate it into the home as well. We work on recognizing emotions/regulation states and practicing with different scenarios.

  43. I have a few sets of drawn faces showing different expressions and love to use these in different ways – playing memory match games, making them into a game board, using them as part of an obstacle course where the kids then have to draw the face they picked. I also like doing different coloring sheets with stories to talk about why people feel different emotions, then pair it with drawing or coloring the different fascial features as we talk about them.

  44. One of the first books I introduced to my daughter was a book of faces with different facial expressions. We still read it frequently and now that she is a toddler we talk about why someone might feel a certain emotion, what we can do to help someone feeling sad, and times she has felt different ways, and how we like to try to help others feel by the way we treat them. We do the same in story books.

  45. Recognizing emotions starts with regulation. If I can help them identify their own cues and feelings, then they are better able to identify them in others. I might also prompt by saying, what do you think this character (usually in a book) might be feeling?
    Also, social stories are a great way to encourage emotional and social learning 🙂
    Thanks for this fun contest Colleen and for sharing so many resources! I’ve taken a few of your courses and benefited greatly from them!

  46. I use a color coded emotional thermometer to practice identifying emotions and feelings. I use role playing, books, and board games such as “My Feelings” to practice identifying various facial expressions and developing coping strategies to self regulate.

  47. I use Zones of Regulation, social stories, and role playing stories. This would be great for my lower functioning students.

  48. I use 2nd Step curriculum, books about emotions, Zones of regulations, Pyramid Model, Daniel Tiger Videos and photos

  49. We use the Second Step curriculum. We also stress the importance of looking at faces and recognize feelings and emotions. We also read stories and have discussions about how characters feel and why?

  50. I find using books with kids is a great way to connect and to help them understand emotions. Much easier to first learn to talk about a character in a book than yourself.

  51. Take deep breathes and blow out an imaginery candle (finger) before using words to state how what is bothering you.

  52. We do alot of roll playing, and I question their current emotions. I ask how they are feeling, what makes them feel that way. is it a good feeling or a bad feeling. we we look at books and talk about facial expressions and what the character in the book may be feeling. drawing pictures of faces and discussing the emotions

  53. Interoception, Zones of Regulation, noticing how preferred characters might feel, noticing how group members might feel, reading body language.

  54. In my role I observe children a lot, I watch, wait and listen. I try not to talk too much and demonstrate empathy by encouraging children to look at their peers facial expressions and body language to recognise how they are feeling. I notice that children who have social and emotional challenges often have attachments to stuffed toys. I would love to have one of these toys in my basket! Thankyou for sharing you expertise and abundant ideas about enhancing the preschoolers developmental journey.

  55. I’ve been using the interoception curriculum as well as zones of regulation to work on teaching emotions and emotional regulation.

  56. I currently use Zones of Regulation for my older kids, but I haven’t quite find the right program to use with the younger ones. This plush toy seems great to use w/ the younger kids!

  57. We use a lot of mentor texts to teach about emotional regulation.
    I would love to have this visual reminder!

  58. For emotional regulation, I like to incorporate the Zones of Regulation curriculum into my sessions. I also like to use role play! As a new graduate working in paediatrics, using these plush animals would be a fun way to teach emotional regulation to the younger children on my caseload 🙂

  59. I work in a district with so many low income and needy students, these would be really helpful and appreciated. Really great tools for therapy! Love these.

  60. I use concepts from zone of regulation and apply to kids’ animated movies like inside out to teach them the different emotions and how to manage them. I also love explain size of problem and size of reaction to help gauge their responses to different situations.

  61. I made a visual that combines zones of regulation (what my school uses) with sensational brain. I also use a little of the How Does Your Engine Run curriculum. It’s more about sensory regulation, but emotions definitely get talked about too.

  62. I like to use different pictures from preferred characters with various emotions and have them categorize them and demonstrate strategies to help them return to different zones of regulation or alert levels!

  63. I use The Zones of Regulation, Inside Out characters and games, interoception, and use videos and apps to identify emotions. this would be a great addition!

  64. We uave been using zones of regulation to teach emotions. It can be hard to teach to the very little or delayed population tho. Using these meotion plusses would be great for younger students

  65. So into Social Emotional Learning in our Kindergarten. I love how they come in not really knowing how to get along well with each other and by the end of the year have the skills to help them thrive. Kindergarten is such a magical year! This cuddly toy would be a great asset to our care and comfort toolbox. Thank you for the opportunity!

  66. I love using Zones of Regulation. Little kids seem to really learn from the program Emotional ABCs. I also love using the Inside Out characters and talking about emotions throughout the day, such as when reading a story, asking questions related to emotions, or when a student doesn’t like a task, bringing up how they are feeling, what zone they are in and how we can get back to green to finish our work?

  67. I use role play as well. Making sure we have exploration of activities and self interests that makes a child/student happy-regulate their feelings is one way I incorporate interoception, connecting it to feeling calm with a resting heart rate.
    Thanks for this opportunity!

  68. I really like using the Zones of Regulation to teach about emotions. This would be a really great visual tool to use in teletherapy when using the zones to teach about emotions.

  69. I use zones and role playing. These plush toys would be great for teaching the little ones to explore and recognize emotions!

  70. I use an how do I feel today chart that has matching Emoji faces along with assorted books on books, emotion memory match card games, emotions puzzles, and how do I feel art which uses music with painting or drawing.

  71. These are great for using with younger kids. They would compliment the work I am already doing with the Zones of Regulation, Inside Out, and the Interoception curriculum

  72. District wide we have a big emphasis on social emotional development and learning. I use zones of regulation, a quiet corner, W-breathing and yoga with kids. Those with poor verbal skills would love this as a comforting way to express how they are feeling!

  73. I love using the Zones of Regulation to teach children about emotion identification and appropriate coping tools for each. I have done this in several different ways, ranging from an emotion identification chart, to games, crafts, fortune tellers, videos, etc.

  74. I love using pictures, music, social stories and mindfulness to try to work on emotional strategies and awareness. I’ve never seen these before – they look so cute and would be helpful especially with my kiddos who have experienced trauma.

  75. I would love to incorporate this plush toy into my therapy sessions to address emotional strategies and mindfulness. This toy can bring comfort to them while they express themselves. Plus, I would love to use this with my toddler while reading him a book to address empathy.

  76. I just recently added one of these to my wishlist. I typically currently use the yellow face emotion emojis to help teach emotions. Winning one of these would be a great bonus when working with younger kiddos.

  77. I use Zones of Regulation quite a bit. I find it easy to explain and the kids seem to understand and respond well. We also work on identifying coping strategies for each Zone.
    I have also found the use of stories to be helpful. Some of my kids find it easier to identify how the characters I made up are feeling (I use animals a lot) and what they could do to express their needs or manage their emotions.

  78. I love using Zones of Regulation book with my clients and then discussing the emotions in books and movie clips examples!

  79. I have always used my facial expressions to demonstrate emotions that we feel or are learning about. It has worked so well, that now my child attempts to physically change a negative (stressed out!) emotion on my face by smoothing out lines or manipulating my mouth to create a positive emotion.

    My child loves animals, and it would be wonderful to be able to demonstrate emotions on a face other than mine. Using my face brings to my attention all the new wrinkles I now have. ?

  80. What a great resource for all of the kid’s who are needing social emotional supports while being stuck at home during remote learning. All kids would benefit from this!

  81. These would be fantastic to provide emotional regulation for my clients in private practice. I would love to use these to model how they could utilize them at home, especially now during such stressful strange times

  82. I work with toddlers and like to use the Daniel the Tiger videos that demonstrate strategies, along with coloring sheets and songs. I also use social stories and practice strategies during play.

  83. I have used the Zones of Regulation and social stories. I have a prospective new job lined up working with the SEL classroom and this would be a great resource to have!

  84. I am an ESOL teacher who works with Autism Inclusion kiddos and this would be perfect for working on the Zones!

  85. I use the zones of regulation, as well as books and social stories. These stuffed animals would be wonderful to show that one person can flip through a series of different emotions and what they may look like.

  86. I use zones of regulation to help teach emotional self regulation in school setting but in early intervention, I think this product would be helpful.

  87. we use emotion books and stories to talk about emotions. we also play card games where we find matching emotions and act out one emotion at a time.

  88. We do a lot of identification of feelings using books/pictures etc. This would be a nice hands-on addition.

  89. Our school uses a lot of Zones of Regulation activities, so I support that. Plus, strategic breathing and other calming tasks while helping them recognize when they need breaks.

  90. For older kids using a feeling stick. Which allows them to feel the power that they can talk. Also by asking them a lot of questions about a situation, how it made them feel, what about be better, what you/I can do.

  91. We use mirrors to help children identify visual markers of emotion. We have lots of charts with faces but this toy looks amazing!

  92. As an OT in the public school setting, I work with a lot of kids with sensory processing issues, who often also have delayed social/emotional development as well. This would be a very helpful book to make me a more effective therapist

  93. I do a lot of role playing and demonstrating how different emotions look. Also we do situation cards about how each situation would make us feel. For older kids, I use comic strips with the captions omitted and we look at. The faces to determine what is happening. This toy would be great for those younger kids.

  94. my son has a difficult time with his emotions so we have read lots of books together on the topic but this would be so neat to try!

  95. This would be perfect to add to our books, posters, feelings cards and check-in. Along with our calm down tools/toys

  96. I have started using some Autism Level Up resources for social emotional and self regulation, and kids have been doing great with it!

  97. This would be. Such a great way to build on feelings and emotions. Also offering a full sensory experience. Thank you!

  98. I love to use zones of regulation and use pictures of characters from tv shows and movies to sort into different categories, then discuss what strategies that character can use to help.

  99. Strategies I use with my little guy to teach and talk about emotions are asking him about how he’s feeling when he comes home from school. There is a color chart in his room with zones for different emotions. Also on the chart are calm down strategies. I read him books and ask him how others are feeling and why and what can they do. I demonstrate deep breathing when he gets frustrated and give him time to himself when he needs to calm down. We also discuss feelings and actions through play with his toys if one of them is upset, sad, being silly etc. I still have lots to learn but realize how important healthy social emotional development is for him.

  100. I use strategies based on the How Does Your Engine Run? program, and some Zones of Regulation. Role playing is a great way to implement strategies.

  101. I use the Zones of Regulation to teach emotional regulation. The kids identify emotions by looking at pictures of real people, drawings, watch video/cartoon clips, or role play to help see what different emotions look and feel like.

  102. I have used Zones as well as role play. I continue to struggle with my own child however. The biggest regression I have seen in her after pulling her out of pre-school due to COVID is social emotional regulation. I read her different books labeling emotions.

  103. The Zones of Regulation visuals and photos of real people having different emotions as well as movie/video clips of Inside Out, Elf, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc.

  104. We use facial expressions and make up songs. We start singing when we recognize an emotion someone is expressing. There is a great Sesame Street app that was helpful with learning to make different choices when feeling certain emotions as well.

  105. These tools look really keel and interesting. I use the Zones of Regulation combined with the Move, Work, Breathe Program as well as yoga, and numerous books to help kids learn about emotions. We also use the We Thinkers Program.

Comments are closed.

emotional development toy

More Posts Like This