Few toys for preschool age children carry as much controversy as a doll. While most people don’t give a second thought to girls playing with dolls, including dressing, feeding, and walking them in strollers, some adults are absolutely incensed at the idea of boys doing the same. Some adults feel the need to protect boys from being ridiculed for playing with dolls, and other adults feel it interferes with a boy’s masculine nature to play with a baby doll. This is unfortunate because, in fact, doll play teaches all children valuable life skills, many of which modern men have to work extra hard to develop later in life.
There are many benefits to doll play, but ultimately, the purpose of doll play is to teach empathy. Children see themselves in their toys, and the people they love. They play act scenarios where their baby is sad, and dialog about why and how to fix it. They learn to emulate nurturing and care for others. When they themselves make the transition into parenthood, these skills are much easier to hone if they were allowed at an early age.
Doll play also helps children to verbalize and discuss their own feelings, which many adults struggle with, having been told when they themselves were young that “boys don’t cry” or similar. When children are allowed to say that they’re sad and mad, reactionary behaviors such as hitting are lessened. When a child appears upset, simply ask how his or her doll is feeling, and the answer is extremely telling. The child will say their doll is sad, and will explain why, if adults will only listen.
Simply put, doll play helps children to navigate social interaction. Whatever role they choose later in life, from stay-at-home parent to CEO, learning early on how to communicate with other humans is not just a tool but a necessity. Reading the emotions of others is as important as reading books, and definitely is something everyone needs to draw upon, every day of their life.
For parents who want to allow for natural emotional development through doll play, there are a few things to keep in mind while procuring a doll:
- Bring the child to the store to choose the doll, let them have the one they gravitate to and identify with.
- Choose a retailer that offers dolls in a variety of hair and skin colors, and ensure that some of the dolls will visually resemble your child’s ethnicity and features. (Some manufacturers can custom make dolls with hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, glasses, wheelchairs, etc., if needed. They’ll need to be special ordered.)
- Choose from dolls with softened, neutral expressions. The child’s imagination should dictate how the doll “feels” and features like garish grins limit this expression.
- Dolls that speak also limit the imagination. Go for low or no-tech, soft bodies and fabrics, avoid lights and gimmicks.
- Understand that most children will take off all of the dolls clothes, and that’s fine.
- Speak to the doll and acknowledge it as you would a friend of your child
- Doll play is age appropriate for toddlers, preschoolers, pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and early elementary school age children. Some children may still seek the familiarity of a doll into tween years.
Prime Time Early Learning Centers in New Jersey and New York encourages parents wishing to learn more about the benefits of doll play to do a quick web search to learn more about how this childhood activity, which crosses all cultures, economic demographics, languages, and genders, is crucial to developing emotional intellect.
The Education Director of Prime Time Farmingdale reports: “All our toddlers and twos in our child care and summer camp programs LOVE to feed, dress, diaper and swaddle all of the dolls.” “We supply our classrooms with real diapers,blankets,clothes and pretend food for the
“baby” dolls.. The children especially love feeding the dolls with the play baby bottles”
Prime Middletown is actually located in adjacent Walkill New York. Middletown Director Eva Ramos says: “Our teachers encourage all our kids attending part-time and full-time child care to play with dolls by facilitating appropriate dramatic play experience such as a pediatricians
office, a school setting or a home environment in the dramatic play center. Teachers encourage the children to come up with different scenarios at home and away, and to act them out including themselves and the dolls. Now that we opened new classrooms, we need to purchase
new dolls to ensure that al the children have an opportunity to learn from doll play.
In our Prime Time East Rutherford Center, children from surrounding towns Carlstadt and Rutherford regularly play with dolls to describe and build upon their understanding of family composition; including mom, dad, brothers, sisters, cousins and grandparents. Older children enrolled Pre-K role play with the dolls as community helpers; firefighters, police, doctors, postal workers, military service members. Some dolls are designed to assist in the development of fine motor skills with fasteners such as zippers, buttons, laces. Children engage in creative expression and critical thinking exercises with dolls; preparing food, serving them food, eating at restaurants. The role of parents, teachers and other adults as a way of learning and processing the world around them.