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Imagine being two feet high and dealing with a world that is meant for someone twice your size at the very least! Everything appears large, everyone seems to look down on you and everything seems enlarged. Children have a fundamental need to shrink the large, loud, chaotic world we inhabit down to a manageable size so they can test their ideas in everyday situations, and this has been said by none less than a psychology professor at Yale University.  When children use toys to pretend play and create situations or fill in for peers, they are learning about communication, empathy and problem solving along the way.

In the next couple of decades emotional intelligence or EQ will be vital for success – reading emotions is as important as reading a memo especially when dealing with humans.  We know that our kids ( as did we) name their dolls, talk to them, take care of them, baby talk to them and pretty much treat the doll like a part of their real world people. We also use the dolls to deflect anything; talk about hurt (see dolly is crying),  discuss important issues like body image, safe touch and bad touch etc. and generally as a surrogate for ourselves.

Is it ok for boys to play with dolls?

Experts agree that doll play is as helpful for boys, as it is for girls as they too need to develop the same emotional skills as girls and often are deprived of that sort of emotional exploration. Boys can benefit from self-expression facilitated by doll play especially with more diverse representation among dolls that helps kids pick the dolls that they can empathize with or identify with. Distinctly different dolls also facilitate conversations on, gender, race, identity etc.

How can we make sure we are picking the right doll?

These days it’s easier to make boy dolls available to boys, if that is their preference. The key for parents looking for the right toy is just to follow children’s leads.

How can parents make sure doll play creates positive spaces in which to learn social lessons?

Think of dolls as objects of affection and tools rather than as simple toys. Children will learn how to care for objects of their affection, especially those cast in their molds and much smaller than them.

They may have existed since time immemorial and be simple in form, but dolls create worlds in a profound and complicated way. Think about body image for instance – dolls can be used to help with unrealistic expectations and help with positive body image. Dolls are even often used in therapy to understand issues that a child may need to deal with after trauma for instance.

They are non-threatening and do not react in any aggressive way with the children they are with. Be it boys or girls, they need this in their lives.

Dolls are a constant presence and remain unchanged no matter other aspects of a child’s life. This may be very comforting to a child who has moved recently and while everything including neighbours and friends are new, the doll is present and constant.

Studies indicate that gender roles get solidified all too early. When we encourage kids to play with all kinds of toys, it sets the foundations for free thinking and removes the constraints of gender. Psychologist studies show that by age 5, boys are already performing their masculinity for external approval. (girls also similarly perform for external approval)  Hence it is important to let kids play with all kinds of toys.  

Occasionally there could be social stigma attached to boys playing with toys out of concerns for gender conformity and eventually sexuality. Boys playing with dolls are sometimes considered weird and discouraged and may sometimes be teased.  

Playing with dolls can also encourage boys to break from hyper-masculine roles altering the world around them and play a big role in diminishing what is known as “toxic masculinity”.

What we need to know about playing with dolls:

Kids practice how to interact with other people in a non – threatening environment when they play with dolls. They can emulate the adults in their life, make mistakes without fear.

It helps children to identify with dolls so that they can imagine the world from their perspectives and build empathy. This makes diverse representation and varied choices critical.

Boys too gain valuable skills when they play with dolls. Families can break away from the archaic gender roles that limit growth. It’s not just skills of nurturing, empathy, and caretaking that boys can learn from care taking, through doll play. Boys can play with dolls and not be called sissy, gay, and much worse.

Like all else structured doll play is not the best and it is best to let children play as they would like.

In conclusion it is important to remember that play like everything else should be about free choice. If we wish to raise free thinking, independent individuals it is important to let boys and girls explore all facets of their personality and not stigmatize or shame them to conform to one way of thinking. Fathers these days are an equal part of raising their child. Playing with dolls should also be an equal choice for boys and girls. Happy parenting
January 13, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

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