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Dolls are Good for Kids: Whether they’re grieving or not

A common question I get asked by parents is, “When is my daughter too old to play with dolls?”

Dolls are fabulous toys for both girls and boys, especially those going through grief. Dolls teach children so many things about life, emotions, love, loss and problem solving within their environment. They develop cognitive and motor skills, language skills, caring and nurturing skills, and teach children how to navigate through strong and challenging emotions.

When children get older and still play with dolls, they are ridiculed and bullied. At this stage (Probably 7years and older) they learn different things.

It’s not only about their world; they use their dolls to:

  • Write scripts for
  • Put on plays
  • Design and sew clothing
  • Produce YouTube videos
  • Design and build houses
  • Create companies
  • Become collectors
  • Have companions

In short, playing with dolls teaches children about their own world and understanding the world around them and the world they’re growing into.

I am challenged by the following two statements:

  1. The notion that boys shouldn’t play with dolls
  2. Children should have a cut off age for when they grow out of playing with dolls. 

Let Me Explain

In this day and age, all boys (Yes, boys!) and girls should have the opportunity to play with dolls.

Nowadays boys are meant to grow into emotionally intelligent young men and fathers. Yet we cling to our old values of stereotyping toys and telling boys to “Stop crying like a girl”.

Boys play with cars and trucks and girls play with dolls. If we want to have emotionally intelligent boys, we need to give them the opportunity to play with dolls in a caring, nurturing way. Gone are the days when dad goes off to work and mum stays home to do housework and care for the family. Both parents’ work and both do housework and care for the family. Some fathers choose to stay home and do what was “traditionally” the mother’s role.

In order for this to happen, boys need to be supported to play with dolls, so they are provided the benefits of girls.

Why Play with Dolls at all?

Developing cognitive and motor skills

 Children learn this through:

  • Dressing and undressing dolly
  • Brushing hair
  • Feeding dolly with a spoon
  • Bathing dolly
  • Potty training
  • Pretend play
  • Manipulating dolly to stand, sit and move

Developing language skills

Playing with dolls helps the child’s pretend play by offering opportunities to learn, use and practice speech and language skills and thereby expanding their vocabulary.

Children learn this by:

  • Naming and recognising body parts
  • Teaching items of clothing e.g. shirt, blanket, singlet e.t.c.
  • Answering What? Where? Why? Questions. For example “What is dolly doing?” “Where is dolly?” “Why is dolly crying?”
  • Dolly can interact with other toys to learn “Where?” dolly is in relation to the other toys e.g. dolly is next to the car.
  • Learning verbs (action words) like “Dolly looks hungry, does she want something to eat?”

Developing caring and nurturing skills

Looking after a doll not only expands their vocabulary, they also practice caring and nurturing skills. They take responsibility for their doll. They often copy a parent on how the child is being parented or how they would like to be parented. It’s important for parents to take notice of how children play because it gives you huge clues into how they (the child) sees you as a parent and guide.

Here is where children learn respect and responsibility.

 Developing emotional intelligence

Children often feel small and insignificant in the adult world. Sometimes they’re overwhelmed by their emotions and feelings, playing with dolls helps children bring those emotions down to a manageable size.

This is also where children learn empathy (which is a very important skill to learn). Empathy is important to teach children so they that others can be hurt by their words and actions. While playing with dolls children can act out a situation that they’ve been in and try to resolve it or learn extra skills on dealing with the situation. It would be good if an adult could join and play with their child, (if the child is having difficulty dealing with a real life situation) some guidance is often needed.

Children often feel overlooked by adults who are dealing with grief. The child knows something is going on but isn’t being told and doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. This is stressful for the child.

Dolls can offer support by:

  • Listening to the child’s problems
  • Being their as a companion
  • Acting out what the adults are doing
  • Searching for answers

When Children get Older

Children are ridiculed for playing with dolls when they get older, 7 or 8 years old may be the cut off time for some people. Are you doing a disservice to the child who needs this doll? And do you let the child play with dolls until…?

As I said in the introduction, dolls play a different roll, as children get older. Their imagination broadens into creating, staging, writing, designing etc.

Some children leave their dolls behind for the world of technology but for others, dolls are always a part of their lives or sometimes become their career paths.

Twinless Twins and Grief

Before twins are born they share a womb, they are one. In-uterine connection can be seen on ultrasound by the time the twins are 8 weeks. They can be seen to hug, touch and push each other. As the space gets tighter in the womb they become closer in every way. There is no doubt that as they become more snug they share everything in their daily life. They have learned to accommodate each other with great love and connection. Twins develop inter-dependence in the womb and this continues after birth.

By the time they are born they are “one entity”. They know each other inside and out. If one of the twins dies the other is always in search of that twin. Forever searching to recapture that closeness, that “oneness” that they had experienced in-utero. A great need for close companionship is innate to all twins (either identical or fraternal). Each twin is not whole without the other and experiences great anxiety without the other. This tight bond is never broken, it continues its phenomena in the twinless twin. The surviving twin is unable to articulate their frustration, constant loneliness and loss of their other half. This is where age appropriate dolls are important.

Children don’t grieve the same way adults do, dolls can help. Dolls are good tools for grieving children, especially twinless twins. Not only are dolls learning tools (as previously discussed) they are often companions for a grieving a child. They can talk to the doll, it can help them manage their grief, adults can also use the doll to help the child talk about their emotions because the strength of their emotions can be overwhelming. You can also use the doll to model good experiences; such as, what to do when you’re angry etc.

The Last Word

I believe that both girls and boys should play with dolls to help them learn empathy, compassion, fine motor skills, social skills and emotional intelligence.

The very last word is that there is no cut off age for playing with dolls. The child will generally naturally find something new to be interested in but if they don’t and they still find that dolls are important to them, then it is important that they continue to play. If you think the child is too old, it is the adults roll to be present in the play of the child. Notice what the child is doing with the doll, be curious because you might be doing damage to their psyche.

The Final Word

All parents should know that playing with dolls is beneficial for your child. I would go so far as to say that it is essential for both boys and girls to be able to grow into loving, caring, nurturing, empathic adults (some of whom will be parents) who let children be children.

If you would like to talk to me to discuss your child who feels overwhelmed by their emotions you can have a 10 minute free, no obligation phone call by booking an appointment here and I’ll talk to you soon.


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