This new trend in toys is teaching kids empathy and kindness—and we love it

Parents and toy makers are into playthings that promote social skills, not just STEM skills.

This new trend in toys is teaching kids empathy and kindness—and we love it
?:: Fisher-Price

Toys are supposed to be fun (that’s kind of the whole point) but toys that multitask as teaching tools are even better.

Recently we’ve seen a rise in play products that help kids take their first steps into STEM (like LEGO’s new Women of NASA collection), but toys that help instill emotional intelligence are catching on with parents and kids just in time for Christmas.

This year, toys that teach kids about empathy and caring are filling store shelves and stockings.

Toy companies know that parents are as focused on social skills, like sharing, as much as they are on STEM, especially in the earliest years of a child’s life. Some manufacturers are starting from scratch, launching new products aimed at instilling empathy and other social skills, but others, like Fisher-Price, are adding extra lessons to toys kids already love.

The Little People line has been tweaked so that kids are learning about compassion while playing with the classic figures.

(My son got the Little People Sit with Me School Bus for his second birthday and I was surprised by the lyrics to one of its songs: “Be nice, be nice and not just once or twice. Be warm and kind to the folks you find, keeping nice stuff on your mind.” It’s an earworm.)

New music isn’t the only part of the revamp. When we were kids, all the Little People were perpetually happy, but the redesigned line features figures with a variety of facial expressions, so parents can talk with kids about what each character’s expression might mean.

New toys with new lessons

Other lines are introducing entirely new toys to the market. The Moodsters are a line of toys created by parenting and child development expert Denise Daniels with the social and emotional development of children in mind.

The brand of plush toys and storybooks incorporates an evidence-based curriculum developed by a Yale psychologist to help kids have fun while increasing their emotional IQ. The Moodsters characters are like huggable detectives who help kids unravel the mysteries of emotions and give them the skills and language to express their feelings.

Kimochis are another plush toy and book line focused on building emotional intelligence (they've been around for a few years, you may have seen them at Whole Foods). Each of the plush toys has the ability to feel different feelings (represented literally by smaller plush toys that tuck into an emotion-holding pocket on the larger one). There’s a bunch of different toys with different personality traits, so whether your kiddo is moody like Cloud, or shy and anxious like Bug, there’s a toy for every kid to relate to.

Board games for the whole family

Playing a game with your kids is a great way to impart your own wisdom along with the lessons a plaything can provide. Board games like Guess How I Feel? are a great way to give older kids social skills training by taking turns sharing and guessing each other's reaction to situations pictured on cards (like how someone would react to dropping an ice cream cone or saying goodbye). The makers of the game say it’s especially good for kids dealing with speech delays or those on the Autism spectrum.

Learning about empathy with and without toys

If you’re doing a no-toy Christmas, don’t worry—you can make your child’s old toys into emotional intelligence builders, too.

Playing with dolls or other figures gives kids a chance to see a situation from multiple perspectives, and gives parents plenty of opportunities to talk about feelings, empathy and caring. Other forms of pretend play don’t even require any toys at all, and studies have shown make-believe play is very important for developing the capacity for empathy and other prosocial skills.

Whether your kid is imagining that they are an empathic dinosaur, exploring emotions with a plush toy or helping Little People board a bus, you’ve got an opportunity to use their play teach them to be kind and caring. That’s a gift that will last much longer than any toy.

This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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A few years ago, while my wife's baby bump got bigger and my daddy reading list grew longer, I felt cautiously optimistic that this parenthood thing would, somehow, suddenly click one day. The baby would come, instincts would kick in, and the transition from established couple to a new family would be tiring but not baffling.

Boy was I wrong.

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