The benefits of playing with dolls – why it can be good for boys too!
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. Distinctly different dolls also facilitate conversations on skin colour, gender, race, identity, and more.
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). 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”.
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. But it is up to us, as parents, to normalize this and equip our children to respond appropriately.
Bangalore-based parents Nandini Vishwanath and her husband Ajit Bhaskar are particular about sending the right gender-related messages to their son who loves playing with nail polish. Ajit often joins him in this, lending his fingernails for 3-year-old Abhay's experiments, and sharing pictures of this online. Ajit is also a well-known home chef and food writer and gets Abhay in the kitchen with him as much as possible. By consciously subverting conventional gender roles, they hope they are raising their son to grow up without biases.
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.
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!