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Winter is coming, and with it, Christmas and presents. We have a 3 years old daughter, who has an almost 2 months old sister, and it's time thinking about which toys to get her (we have almost full control, since we have to choose for presents from grandparents as well).

In particular, we are wondering about the benefits of dolls.

Currently she has neither dolls nor tea parties (she has tons of cuddly toys though). When she wants to play tea parties, either she gets actual dishes or she uses objects or toys which look like dishes (or not…). As for dolls, yesterday she took a jar of pickles, named it as her newborn sister, and used toilet paper to dress it.

It seems like not having a doll or tea parties would help developing imagination.

On the other hand, we can see she tries to identify as her mother and she'd probably like to have a doll which she could dress and play parent with.

So, I'm wondering about the implications of realistic toys versus "hijacked toys". What would be the benefits of having a doll against having her making a doll of whatever she can find ? Should we get her one ?

I'm wondering about the implications of realistic toys versus "hijacked toys".**

Side notes :

I won't buy her a doll just because she's a girl, because I don't want to enforce gender stereotypes. I'll buy her one if I think it's beneficial to her mind. But gender stereotypes are not the point of my question. Answers addressing primarily this issue are off-topic.

In addition, she goes to school, but currently she doesn't have much out of school interactions with other children so we're not much concerned about her being jealous of other children toys.

  • I meant gender stereotypes. She'll probably get heavy plant machinery or firefighters Duplo, which could be considered as "boy toys" (at least by vendors…). Anyway gender stereotypes are not the point of my question, it's more about imagination. I edited the question to make it (hopefully) clearer. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 16:43
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    Get her something she wants to play with. If she is already making her own doll-like toys, she clearly would love a real doll. Simple. (Also, I don't understand why you think having a real doll vs. making her own dolls would change her imagination use. She'd still be using her imagination to play) – Bobo Nov 26 '14 at 17:06
  • @Bobo : I mean it like reading a book vs watching TV. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 17:17
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    It's not that good to take this "not enforcing stereotypes" to extremes. You might think that you don't want to enforce anything on her, but by not giving her a doll, you are still enforcing an ideology on her, just a different one. – vsz Nov 26 '14 at 20:57
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    (A little late to the party) From my experience, I try to get my girls (twins of 1.5yo) different kinds of toys: some that will help with motor skills, some that will help with creativity, some for cuddling factor... I didn't really care for buying dolls either but after my nanny sent me a few times pictures of them playing with another kid's doll at the park, I realized they actually liked playing with those and got one for both. I think you can get tons of imagination with a doll, they are like stuffed toys anyways ;) – Fanny H. Dec 3 '14 at 23:43

10 Answers 10

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In particular, we are wondering about the benefits of dolls.

Helps develop coordination, motor skills, social skills, and imagination. Allows the child to act out different roles.

Dressing, grooming, feeding skills are reinforced with doll play. Coordination when carefully carrying the doll, rocking, or pushing in a stroller.

Helps add to the vocabulary.

It seems like not having a doll or tea parties would help developing imagination.

Creative play may occur when resources are limited, but having a closer representation can also lead to creative and imaginative exercises that won't take place with a poor representation of the object. Desiring to take a pickle jar baby on a swing or slide, for instance, breaks the "fourth wall" so to speak, when the rules one must follow for food or glass items limit the play.

Aside from that, chances are good she will, at times, need more than one companion simultaneously, and she will still be able to exercise her imagination and fill in the gaps with other stand-ins.

On the other hand, we can see she wants to identify as her mother and she'd like to have a doll which she could dress and play parent with.

Keep in mind that dolls may stand in as babies and children, they also can stand in as friends, enemies, authority figures, or allow the child to play any of these roles. Just because the doll is obviously a baby won't necessarily limit the roles of the doll or your daughter.

Finally, I don't want to reinforce gender stereotypes.

She's expressing stereotypical behavior. If you buy her toys which enable further exploration and expression of that behavior, then you are reinforcing it. So if this is a concern, and you don't want to reinforce it, then you probably shouldn't buy the doll.

However, being a nurturing and caring human being, learning social skills, and the other benefits listed above are good for both boys and girls. You might want to take a further step back and rather than avoiding or reinforcing gender roles, decide what social and life skills are core to your parenting philosophy, and then take steps to reinforce those.

A doll may or may not fit into that.

So, what would be the benefits of having a doll against making a doll of whatever she can find ?

The abstraction of objects is already firmly fixed - if you provide a doll what might she be able to do with it within her imagination that she couldn't easily do with the abstractions she's used to dealing with? To me it's akin to learning complex math operations by hand, then moving on to using a calculator so that I can expand my reach. It's a convenient shortcut, but it can't be used all the time, so having a foundation to fall back on is necessary.

She won't stop creating people with other objects just because she obtained a better simulation. But she might be able to play differently with a better simulation than she can now.

Should we get her one ?

Your concerns seem to be: by giving her a doll, are we taking valuable opportunities away and/or reinforcing negative stereotypes.

I don't believe either is the case, so if you feel like giving a doll, then you might as well.

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    Further reading: mamaot.com/2012/11/25/… – Adam Davis Nov 26 '14 at 17:29
  • As I read this answer, I think of my daughters, 2 1/2 and 4, and you could make this answer about them and their stuffed animals as much as you could about their dolls. – corsiKa Nov 26 '14 at 18:48
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    @corsiKa : What I liked most about this answer are parts addressing the "imagination" issues. In other words, it's a skill she already has, now let's develop other skills. In this respect I'm glad I didn't bring dolls earlier. However she already has tons of stuffed animals, and it appears she took none of them but a jar of pickles to figure a newborn. It seems like there's kind of a border here. Maybe she's had her stuffed animals for too long to be able to change her representation of them. Also, it's harder to find clothes for stuffed animals. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 21:27
  • Great, insightful answer. She'll get her doll. ;) [Initial comment deleted and rewritten.] – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 21:32
  • My daughter has tons of stuffed animals too, and she never did anything with them. Until she was 5, now everything she does involves them. You can't direct these things. She never really cared for dolls either, but that means nothing for your daughter. – Remco Nov 27 '14 at 9:38
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Giving a doll to a child who would obviously love it isn't reinforcing a stereotype. Giving a doll to a girl who you know doesn't like dolls is. That's an important distinction.

What you should worry about is avoiding letting her love of dolls blind you to her other interests and talents which you might also support. My 5 year-old daughter loves dolls, and has a ton of them. However, we don't only give her dolls. We encourage her creativity with gifts like a tinker kit or this book of projects to do together. She also likes these hexbug nanos.

In other words, don't try to avoid stereotyping by not letting her have her favorite kind of toy, avoid stereotyping by not limiting her to that kind of toy.

  • Again, I'm not asking about gender stereotypes. I've edited the question to make it even clearer. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 17:14
  • I give you +1 for the interesting gift suggestions, though (she's a bit young now but maybe next year…). – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 17:14
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The benefit of a factory doll versus a made-up doll is, generally, more anatomically correct and potentially safer because it's (allegedly) designed for safety versus a (glass?) jar of pickles.

Anatomically correct is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but generally speaking it matters for practical applications, especially in the fine motor skills relating to clothing: buttons, zippers, etc. Certainly dolls may be assigned fixed costumes, but those that have some sort of additional mechanics like buttons may be of interest.

Same with tea sets, etc. If the materials aren't subject to break, sliver, choke, etc., then it's probably not a problem.

On the other hand, there's the idea of imagination. Sure, you have the choices to make on your own for this, but the take away should be more on safety of the objects than the objects themselves. Also, it should be of interest whether she actually wants one (take her to a store and find out?).

  • You raise good points about anatomy and motor skills. I'm not really concerned about safety but it's certainly a valid point also. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 18:03
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I was dubious about getting my little girl a doll as I also did not want to enforce stereo types onto her but she got one for Christmas last year. At first she wasn't interested but recently has started to play with it a lot, she has a little doll's pram and blanket and little bottle and spoon and dish and she loves to feed her "baba" and put her in her pram and push her back and forth. I think they are a good tool for helping to teach things like body parts and how to treat other human beings (whether you're a boy or girl).

I try to balance things with her so she has a lot of toys that you might class as "boy's" toys and lots of "girlie" toys too. E.g. she has her doll, pram etc but also has Thomas the Tank engine toys and lots of construction type toys.

Has she indicated wanting a doll? She might be playing with jars and toilet paper because that's the closest thing (in her mind) to a doll that she has. x

  • Sorry if the question was not clear, but I mentioned gender stereotypes mainly for the sake of completion. The very point of my question is your last sentence. I've edited the question to make it more obvious. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 16:45
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Letting children play with dolls when they want to is not limiting their creativity, it allows them yet another dimension. My dolls were pirates and divers and firemen and spacemen...

Another thing no-one here mentioned; since we had no cash for doll-accessories, my sister and I made stuff for our dolls - vehicles, tools, furniture, and later on clothes - out of whatever was lying around, bits of wood, boxes, bottle tops. We both became engineers, this may be relevant.

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I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint on this question, which is that perhaps it simply doesn't have an answer.

If you were to ask what number will a die throw produce, and someone answered 5 and someone answered 3 and someone else answered 1 and then you chose the "5" answer, would that make any sense? Or would you just be choosing your favorite answer ignoring the fact that the real answer is "any outcome is equally likely".

I am suggesting that your question is similar. I don't see how it's possible to determine whether buying her a doll or not will in the long run be beneficial or detrimental to any of aspect of your daughter's life.

What is beneficial on the other hand is having a open-minded worldview and exposing your child to as many different stimuli as possible, in a natural, relaxed way, without trying to predict which one will be good for her and which won't. So I suggest you get her a doll if you think she'd enjoy it - and that's all there is to it.

  • I see your point, and you're not wrong. Of course one cannot predict anything and that was not the point of my question. But I cannot buy her the whole toy shop (which would probably be a very bad idea anyway), so I have to make choices. And I cannot just rely on what I think she'd enjoy, otherwise I'd just buy her tons of candies… My (largely misunderstood…) question was only about pros and cons of a specific toy, especially with regard to a particular personality trait (imagination), because I could already see the benefits of not having this toy. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 28 '14 at 9:48
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My 17 month old granddaughter loves to play with the doll, blanket and crib we have at our house. I have a large grand-kid closet which has trains, cars, dolls, lawnmowers, building blocks, books, slides, tea sets, barbies etc. Whatever she wants to play with is fine and encouraged. Last weekend she spent 45 minutes playing with the doll. Putting her to sleep, fixing the blanket, twirling her around, back to sleep so cute to watch. The closet is filled with toys I have found at garage sales and were in great condition. I like good quality items, but I don't want to pay a lot. ;)

  • I hate to say this, but I'm not sure I understand how your answer addresses the question… – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 26 '14 at 16:46
  • I guess my point without being to obvious is that one should expose a child to all sorts of toys. And my grand children and children for that matter have always loved playing with dolls. – Lisa Hansen Nov 26 '14 at 18:18
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    I think her point is also when given equal opportunity (the "toy closet" has both "boy" and "girl" toys), it is not uncommon for the girls to want to play with a doll without prompting. – auujay Nov 26 '14 at 18:45
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Dolls are very useful for encouraging role play. Some children naturally play at random with anything they have - my older (3yo) son does this, but didn't earlier in life. My twenty month old son, however, has a doll and loves it; he hugs it like a baby and very obviously begins to role play with it at a younger age than his older brother did (who had stuffed animals, but no human dolls).

I find this to be largely a personality difference - my younger son is much more personable and social than my older, type-A son. I wouldn't have gotten the older boy a doll, simply because he didn't have a need for one, and didn't like that kind of play.

Tea parties, in addition to role play, also allow a child an outlet for working out social behavior. My older son does this now using cars: mommy is in this car, grandma is in that car, daddy is over here in the train. They interact and tell each other to follow the rules and greet each other. Tea parties are a similar event: the child can place the dolls and have them talk to each other, and in so explore different social situations and work out how to respond socially to different stimuli. After all, one of the most important things socially is to be able to understand how the other person feels; in a solo tea party, the child is able to do that because they are on both sides of the conversation.

This is even more true with a doll she can parent. She will have a lot of complex issues to work out in the next two years (until her younger sister is able to talk, at least, and really for the next twenty or more!). Having a doll might be helpful to allow her to work out some of the feelings she has in relation to her baby sister and to her mother. That relationship will drastically change over the next several years, and having an outlet to work that out with can be very helpful (if she is so inclined, of course - again, she may prefer to use cars or blocks or animals or pickle jars.)

I would also say that I wouldn't worry about it stifling creativity re: her using pickle jars for dolls. She's clearly creative; she'll just start using pickle jars as chairs, or as microphone stands/podiums, or as who knows what. It's very hard to stifle creativity in a three year old, as long as you follow the old Improv rule ("Always say yes.")

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Have you thought of making her a doll? Or helping her make her own?

You can do wonders with a wooden spoon; paint a face on it, add a handkerchief and a rubber band and you've got a doll. Craft shops have wooden heads and eyes and feet and stuff if you want to get serious, and there are plenty of how-to books.

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    Great suggestion, I'd probably go for it if it wasn't (or if we didn't celebrate) Christmas. – Skippy le Grand Gourou Nov 28 '14 at 11:57
  • @SkippyleGrandGourou How does Christmas prevent you from making a doll with your daughter? Indeed I believe the best present you can give her is time, time in which you can help her making a doll. You could give the stuff needed as present and then you could build the doll with her during the holidays. – idmean Nov 28 '14 at 18:10
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If you are worried about stifling her imagination, you could get her something other than a realistic human doll. There are plenty of anthropomorphic stuffed animals (such as teddy bears) that would love to be invited to tea parties! As a bonus, they tend to be viewed as more gender-neutral toys.

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