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Toys Can Help Build Emotional Health in Children During the Pandemic, Experts Say

With rising mental health cases, a trend to use tactile tools to help kids cope with stress is emerging. Wellness practices can be beneficial for the whole family

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. In the past year, heightened stress and emotional turmoil have been hard on Americans of all ages.

Pediatricians have seen the mental health impact firsthand and are saying that cases of anxiety and depression among kids are on the rise.

"The kids are suffering all the way up from kindergarten to college," said Dr. Peter Shulman. "It's been a year now, and I see it every day."

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Among rising mental health cases, a trend to use tactile tools help younger population cope with stress is emerging.

"We're seeing more products that are designed to promote that social-emotional learning and mental wellness," said Maddie Michalik, senior editor at "The Toy Insider." She pointed to an example, the "Big Feelings Pineapple," a toy with interchangeable pieces that form different expressions. Its design aims to introduce social emotional learning, or SEL, skills.

"[Kids] can even communicate their feelings onto the pineapple to show their parents how they're feeling that day," Michalik added.

Other types of toys, such as a mindful maze set, teach self-management skills. A maze with five different colors of rainbow stripes can guide kids to practice breathing in while tracing the top half of a stripe, and breathing out on the bottom half.

Aside from toys, a growing number of free apps are featuring mental health tools.

Jana Belal, a 4th grade student, said that when feeling "sad or mad or angry," breathing exercises "calms you down really quickly."

Such wellness practice could be beneficial for the whole family. Clinical psychologist Dr. Danielle Roeske said that it's "nearly impossible for the stress that the parents are experiencing to not overlap with what the kids are experiencing."

So opening a dialogue about feelings can help parents and kids get through tough times together.

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