The main focus of Encourage Play is helping kids who struggle socially. I’ve written posts to help make it easier for you to work on friendship and social skills at home with your child. Whenever I come across a great resource, I want to share our knowledge with others, so I write a book review and let you know why I love it. I also enjoy watching TED talks. They’re not too long and can be super informative. Experts in all types of areas have made TED talks about all sorts of topics. I’ve also found great articles that speak to our main topics, and love to share those with you as well.




It’s an easy pattern recognition game, but there are all sorts of patterns to choose from, so you also have to be a flexible thinker.


This game is very popular, but it can be tricky because different people play by different rules.  It’s important to teach your child to make sure to talk with people before the game begins so everyone is on the same page when someone picks up a draw 4 or changes the color.  It’s good practice to try different uno rules at home and see which ones your kids prefer.


You pick a card, put it in your headband, and then ask the people playing with you yes or no questions to try and figure out what you are. You have to think of the kinds of questions you need to ask to get you closer to your answer. It can be hilarious!


This game requires some creativity and imagination to make up stories with images you’ve rolled on the dice.  There are several different versions of the game out there, and it’s always interesting to see what adventures people tell.


This game is addicting.  I used it a lot at lunch groups as a school counselor. Kids have also told me they like the sound of the beads when they get dropped into the different sections.  

Connect 4

Another game that was very popular with the lunch group crowd. Sometimes kids would play tournaments, or have conversations about whether they played offensively (focused on winning) versus defensively (focused on preventing the other person from winning).


Everyone has probably heard the sound of the trouble pop-o-matic.  I love this game because there are times you have to go back to start, and it’s a perfect opportunity to show flexibility and good sportsmanship skills.

Apples to Apples

I love this game because it makes people to think about someone else’s perspective.  What card will be chosen as the winner will change depending on who is judging.  

Bubble Time

This game is similar to Apples to Apples, but uses pictures and captions instead. Everyone can take a turn being the judge, and the judge picks the caption that they think fits the picture best. You have to think about things from the perspective of the judge, so it's another great game to help children work on taking another person's perspective.

Note: Both Apples to Apples Junior and Bubble Talk are for 8+, but younger children can play them if they are on a team with someone who can read for them.


Hoot Owl Hoot

This is a game from Peaceable Kingdom, known for it's cooperative style game play. All the players work together to get the owls home before the sun rises. Great fun for practicing social skills like cooperating, working together and communicating. Plus it's just adorable!!

Q’s Race to the Top

This game is one of my new favorite social skills games! Why? Because not only do I enjoy playing, children really enjoy playing. The main character in the game is Q, a super smart monkey but doesn’t always have the greatest social awareness and doesn’t always think about others. Q’s Race to the Top is super simple to learn. The game has three types of cards: Blue YOU Cards, Green Q Cards, Orange DO Cards. The counselor in me loves the Blue and Green cards, and the mom in me loves the Orange cards. they get kids moving and doing physical things that are fun and a little challenging. It’s perfect for a child who may have a hard time sitting still for a whole game. And the beauty is it makes children stay invested and involved with the game. Having the physical component is the perfect way to balance out the talking parts of the game.

Animal upon animal

I just recently discovered HABA games thanks to Table by Teresa. What I love about the games from HABA is that they involve cooperative game play, rather than competitive play amongst players. For children who struggle with managing those competitive type of games, these games are a good place to start. Animal Upon Animal is a stacking game where you work together to build as tall of a structure of animals as you can. We've played according to the directions but we also just free build which the kids love too. I totally recommend this game!


This is a Bingo style game.  There is a container where the tiles are kept, the dealer pulls it forward and back and reveals two tiles.  Whoever calls out the tile first gets it for their board.  My kids like to take turns being the dealer, and my 3 year old can manage to get the tiles back in with no adult help. It’s such a great game to increase vocabulary, practice matching, pick up on patterns, and just work on social interactions.  There have been many arguments over who said the word first. How do you solve that problem?  It’s a good skill to practice with your family before you have your kids play with their friends.


One of my dearest friends let me borrow this game after my son played it at her house.  My kids love to try to catch the fireflies and they have learned to negotiate taking turns putting in the fireflies.  It also keeps them entertained for a long time. It’s adorable!

Don’t Break The Ice

My son loves this game!  He enjoys being able to actually use a hammer and hit something.  You also have to learn some self control while hitting, because if you knock all the pieces out and the skater falls, you lose! On a couple of occasions, we have played this with cousins, and there are some great lessons there about being patient and waiting your turn.  

Clue Jr.

I loved playing Clue with my sister when we were kids! Several years ago, I found Clue Jr and used it when I was working with kids who needed help improving their social skills.  The game was pretty easy to set up and was fun to play.  They had to pay attention to clues, eliminate suspects and make guesses, just like in regular clue.  This was a great game to use with kids to practice social interactions.

Thin Ice

Fun game where you use marbles, tweezers, a little water and tissues.  It’s always fun to see and hear reactions when the “ice” breaks.

Spot it!

Each player gets a card. You have to spot the item that both cards have in common and whoever gets it first wins.  There are several versions, including numbers, letters, animals and sports themes.

Random Acts of Kindness for Families

Inside: Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness families can do together. What a great way to encourage kindness and empathy in your children and connect as a family.

Donate books to the library- We took some of our old books to the library a few months ago, and now we have even more to donate.

Donate items to Goodwill from Kid World Citizen

Leave fun items for kids at the park - We live right down the street from a park. We have some extra sidewalk chalk laying around, I think we’re going to leave some at the park for someone else to enjoy too!

Popcorn Surprise with a free printable from Coffee Cups and Crayons

Valentine’s Day Cards for Kids in the Hospital from the Idealist Mom

Do something nice for a neighbor - Our neighbors had a baby a couple of years ago, and we wanted to do something kind for them, so we made them snacks and I made them a baby blanket.

Giving away homemade hearts from Meri Cherry

Burying Treasure at the Playground - I love this idea from Pennies of Time. We have some small toys in the basement, we’re totally doing this!

Gifts for Dance Class - We had such fun doing this!

Thank you note to the UPS driver - He’s so friendly and I order A LOT of things. Sometimes really heavy things. I think it would be kind if we wrote him a nice thank you card.

Other Places to Get Ideas

  • Here are 100 Acts of Kindness from Coffee Cups and Crayons
  • If you need some ideas for random acts of kindness - check out Pennies of Time - the entire site is dedicated to teaching kids to serve and doing kind acts. There are lots of great ideas here.
  • Boom Boom Cards - You can do random acts of kindness and track it online! There are different packs you can use as well.
  • Random Acts of is also a great place to start to get some ideas for acts of kindness to do with your family

Shop and Give

Here are some places where you can shop and give at the same time: - For every item you buy, you can donate a blanket to a charity of your choosing. The blankets are made in the USA,100% organic and super soft. - When you buy a high road backpack, you help support bullying prevention programming in schools. - 

Books for Families


Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown with Christopher Vaughan. There are so many great quotes and wonderful information about the importance of play and it’s impact on our social lives. Read more of my thoughts on this book in my book review. If you’d like to learn more about the important role play has across our lifespan, pick up Play today!


NEW: Positive Discipline Ninja Tactics by Karen Kolp gives practical advice and easy to implement strategies with real life examples of ways we can parent our children in a positive and respectful way. Karen gives easy to implement strategies to meet our children where they are, notice and encourage their passions and make time for play.

Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel - Super quick and easy read all about mindfulness. Lots of hints for how to start practicing mindfulness as a family, and for your kids too. Lots of great activities to try and there are some great audio links too.

1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan, PhD 1, 2, 3 Magic was recommended to me by my pediatrician when my son was having some behavioral issues at home. I read the book, then shared it with my husband. We started implementing the recommendations, and it’s been amazing. There was an initial period of testing (and that was tough!) but once we got through that, our lives have changed. We’re less stressed as parents and we are enjoying when we are together as a family. I highly recommend this book!

Bloom: 50 Things to Say, Think, and Do with Anxious, Angry, and Over-the-Top Kids by Lynne Kenney and Wendy Young. Bloom tackles challenging issues facing families today in an easy to understand and practical way. The HeartSmart conversations and activities are wonderful ways to build positive connections in your family through play and communication. The BrainSmart Mantras help adults stay positive and re-focus on what matters. What a great resource!

Positive Parenting for Imperfect Families by Nicole Schwarz - Practical and down to earth ebook to help you connect, calm and teach your family in a positive and respectful way.

The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 by ML Nichols: The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates recommended that I read The Parent Backpack.  I’m so glad she did!  This is an excellent resource for parents of elementary school age kids. Wonderful ideas for interacting with the school, understanding education today and transitioning into school.

The Incredible 5-Point Scale by Kari Dunn Baron and Mitzi Curtis is a great resource for people to use in a school setting, a social group setting or at home. It can be used to address a number of different issues, and it’s a great resource for working not only with kids on the spectrum, but for all kids who need a little extra teaching around social and emotional concerns. Read my review here.


For the younger crowd

Join in and Play by Cheri J. Meiners  - A simple to understand book about how kids can join the group and play with others.

How Do Dinosaurs Play With Their Friends? by Jane Yolen - This is part of a books series (How Do Dinosaurs Clean their Room, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?, etc) The images of the dinosaurs make kids giggle!

How To Lose All Your Friends by Nancy Carlson - Cute, tongue-in-cheek book that describes how to lose your friends, and helps kids understand what they should (and shouldn’t!) do to make and keep friends.

How To Be A Friend by Laura Krasny Brown and Marc Brown - This book is actually divided into several different sections on different parts of friendship including how to handle some of the more challenging aspects of friends like manage arguments, how to handle bullies, etc. Sometimes what I’ve done is just read certain sections of the book at a time to focus on a particular friendship skill.

For the late elementary/early middle school crowd

How to Make and Keep Friends by Nadine Briggs and Donna Shea - This book is quick and easy to read. There are 10 quick tips for 50 common social situations, like playdates at your house, joining in a group or staying on topic in a conversation. Read my review of the book here.

Girls Q&A book about friendship by Annie Fox, M.Ed - A great book about some of the more complicated situations that arise for tween girls. Annie Fox, M.Ed answers real girls questions in a relatable and practical way. Read my review here.

Making choices and making friends by Pamela Espeland and Elizabeth Verdick. - This book is a part of a series focused on social competencies for kids, which I think is a great series. I find this book to be empowering for kids, letting them know that they have the power to be thoughtful and make decisions, and resolve issues in a respectful way.

Cliques, Phonies & Other Baloney by Trevor Romain - I love this author, he tackles serious issues like bullying and anger in a way that kids find humorous and relatable. I used to have kids borrow his books all the time from my office because they wanted to read more. This book is focused on managing cliques and the importance of being yourself.

Friends: Making Them & Keeping Them by Patti Kelley Criswell -This is an American Girl book, and it’s got some fun quizzes in it that kids enjoy taking. It even has craft project ideas for kids to do as a positive way to interact with one another, which you know I love.

A Smart Girl’s Guide to Friendship Troubles by Patti Kelley Criswell - This is another  great American Girl book. I would often recommend this book to girls when I was a school counselor to help them understand that friendship troubles are common and there are things that can be done to help manage those difficulties. It helped kids focus on what a good positive friendship looks like and how to get there.

For Parents

It’s So Much Work To Be Your Friend - I LOVE this book. It is full of so much helpful and practical information for parents with kids struggling with social aspects of life. The social skill autopsy is such a great resource to help kids that I would highly recommend it if your child is struggling in social interactions.

The Unwritten Rules of Friendship - Another great book for parents with some practical advice for understanding what’s happening with their child and with some advice for what to do to help support them. It’s divided into different personality traits/behavior characteristics (the shy child, the little adult) so you can just pick what you need to focus on and read that section. Read my review here.

Best Friends, Worst Enemies by Michael Thompson, PhD and Catherine O'Neill Grace. This book is a thorough examination of children’s social lives, from infancy through dating.  The authors explore more specifics of how children develop friendships, manage and work through conflict, group dynamics, teasing and bullying.


Understanding Your Child's Sensory Signals by Angie Voss. The book lists the different sensory signals that a child might demonstrate and is designed to be used in conjunction with Angie’s website, A Sensory Life. I've worked with a lot of kids who have difficulties with sensory input and this book and website had a wealth of information for parents whose kids struggle with sensory issues.

Managing Anger

For the younger crowd (Preschool/Early Elementary):

When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang  Poor sophie has a hard time managing her anger when she has to share gorilla with her sister. It’s a visually interesting book to show how big her feelings get and how it looks when she calms down again.

When I Feel Angry by Cornelia Maude Spelman This is part of “The Way I Feel” series. It explains how different things can make you angry, and that feeling angry is an expected part of life, but it’s what you do when you’re angry that matters.

Cool Down and Work Through Anger by Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed. Another great book that talks about how anger affects your body and suggesting safe ways to express yourself.

Angry Octopus by Lori Lite and Max Stasuyk A great book that actually is a progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing script for kids. It’s wonderful!

Late Elementary School/Early Middle School Crowd:

Don’t Rant and Rave on Wednesdays by Adolph Moser  It mentions the consequences of having unchecked anger, and acknowledges that adults struggle with this too. A large part of the book explains different strategies kids can use to express anger in a safe way, which I think is great.

How to Take The Grrrr Out of Anger by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisovskis  I love using this book for kids who are having a hard time managing being angry. I typically read one chapter at a time with the kids and work on some of the strategies listed in the book.

What to Do When Your Temper Flares by Dawn Huebner  This book has lovely illustrations and goes through “anger dousing” methods.

Chillax!: How Ernie Learns to Chill Out, Relax and Take Charge of His Anger by Marcella Marino Craver  This is a graphic novel, perfect for the tween set.

Dealing With Anxiety

My Amazing Monster Beth Cimler created a playful way to help kids manage their worries. Gobble is a super cuddly monster who has a special power. He can eat worries! Children can write or draw their worries on a piece of paper, then have Gobble eat them.

The beauty of this is that you can later go in and read the children's worries and start a discussion about how to deal with it. Beth's wrote a book to go along with Gobble, focused on going to the hospital. She also has a book coming out soon about being bullied. I can't wait to read it!

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn Classic about managing separation anxiety when kids start school. My daughter’s kindergarten teacher read this on our visit to school the first day.

When I miss you by Cornelia Maude Spelman This is perfect for little ones who have a hard time dealing with the fact that they are away from their parents during the day. It suggests a couple of things they can do to help and reassurance that parents will come back at the end of the day.

Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes (Kevin Henkes also wrote Chrysanthemum, one of my favorite books!) Poor Wemberley worries about everything, and then she gets really worried when she is about to start school.

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook I love that when Wilma Jean’s physical reactions are described, they’re also illustrated. When is says she has knots in her stomach and her knees lock, her stomach really looks like it’s tied in a knot and there’s a real lock around her knees. I love the activity she does with her teacher, going over worries she can control and worries she can’t, it’s a great way to help kids manage their anxiety.

David and the Worry Beast by Anne Marie Guanci David’s anxiety is a beast, and the more anxious he gets, the bigger it grows. David learns to control his thoughts, and his beast shrinks. There’s also a couple of pages for parents and kids in the back.

When My Worries Get Too Big by Kari Dunn Buron This book is wonderful! There are several pages where kids can add in their own thoughts, worries and what helps them relax. This book also uses the 5 point scale to talk about stress and different ways to manage it.

What To Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner, PhD This book goes through several ways that can help kids manage anxiety, including setting a time for worries, thinking about things that make you happy and resetting your body with activity or relaxation. There are some interactive places in this book, where a child can write down their worries, draw some images of things that might help, etc.

What To Do When You’re Scared and Worried by James J. Crist This is one of my favorite books for kids to help them deal with anxiety. Near the beginning of the book is a checklist that helps kids narrow down what they are anxious about. The beginning of the book covers the basics of what anxiety is and how to help manage with coping skills. The next section of the book goes into detail about different types of anxiety kids might experience, including Separation Anxiety, Phobias and Panic Attacks.

Dealing with Divorce/Shared Custody

Going Back and Forth: A Joint Custody Story by Marian Camden, Psy.D. From the author - Ethan loves both his mom and his dad, but going back and forth between two homes is hard! Joint custody allows children whose parents are divorced or separated lots of time with each parent, but the actual transitions back and forth can be tough. Children will relate to Ethan's changing feelings as he goes from his dad's house to his mom's house. Parents get nice modeling on how to help their children. 

Where Do My Brother and Sister Go? by Marian Camden, Psy.D. From the author - There are plenty of picture books for children whose parents have gone through divorce. But what about the children that come later? These are the little "ours" children in the "yours, mine, and ours" families of modern times. These little ones have questions of their own about where their older half-siblings go, who this other parent is, what makes a "real" parent versus a "step" parent and so on. Where Do My Brother and Sister Go? is written just for them! With simple language, and heartwarmingly beautiful illustrations of contemporary family life, this book answers questions, explores feelings, and reminds everyone in a blended or stepfamily what really matters the most.