I don’t have anything against dolls. I don’t think they make or break a girl’s sense of self. I don’t think they promote domesticity — and I don’t think being domestic is a bad thing! But I do feel that, in the world of children’s toys, their value is overrated. And for that reason I won’t purchase one unless my daughter asks for it.
Before I continue I want to be clear that I’m speaking of baby dolls i.e. dolls meant to represent an infant. Not general stuffed animals and stuffed toys.
So why won’t I buy a baby doll for my daughter?
1. My daughter is a baby. I don’t believe she needs to play with a baby.
A heavily touted benefit of playing with baby dolls is the development of empathy and care. You pretend to feed, clothe, burp and comfort the baby. But I’m honestly not sure those are skills my daughter — who at 14 months old is a baby herself — really needs to learn. And honestly the concept of babies learning how to take care of babies has always struck me as a bit bizarre. I do want my daughter to be compassionate, but I believe she will learn that by receiving love and care. I trust she will learn how to be tender and affectionate with the people she loves because I am tender and affectionate with her.
2. There are better toys, in my opinion, for mental and emotional development.
Another touted benefit of dolls is their positive impact on development.
“Baby dolls offer kids lots of opportunities for developing their cognitive, fine motor, and self-help skills. Kids often find it easier to practice these skills on someone (or something) else before they can apply them to themselves.”
What about playing dress-up? I bought my son a firefighter’s outfit from Toys R’ Us and he enjoys putting it on and taking it off while running around the house pretending he’s fighting fires. When my daughter is old enough, I will provide her play clothing she can dress up in. Additionally, dress up skills can be practiced on anthropomorphic toys like stuffed animals, that aren’t actual baby dolls.
As for fine motor and cognitive skills, there are Duplos, wooden blocks, picture books, balls, train sets. So many toys that are mentally stimulating and fun to play with.
3. Baby dolls are incredibly gendered.
I’m acutely aware that baby dolls are marketed primarily to young girls. And that bothers me.
Studies show that toys associated with girls are more likely to be related to appearance and serving others, while those associated with boys are more likely to be related to building things and competition.
Also, the divide between “boy” toys and “girl” toys has gotten wider. In the 1970s, toys were actually less gendered than they are today, something experts attribute to a shift in marketing strategies. Meanwhile, a scientific study on primates suggests that the only real difference between the preferences of boys and girls is that boys like wheeled objects more than girls. That’s it.
Girls’ toys tend to center on just a few concepts — beauty, cooking, princess culture, house management and child care — while boys’ toys are more varied and intellectually robust. There are Legos for building, balls for kicking, trucks and cars for rolling, play animals for dramatizing. Boys’ toys set the stage for STEM skills and imaginative play in a way that girls’ toys don’t.
My Own Doll Test
Over Christmas my mother-in-law bought my daughter an adorable brown baby doll. It came with a pacifier, bottle and striped pajamas that could be taken on and off. Instead of putting it in her room, I kept it in the general play area where both my son and daughter could access it. Within a few weeks the doll had been largely forgotten, relegated to the bottom of our soft toy bin.
I believe it has to do with my second point. My daughter simply preferred other toys for her creative play.
My daughter can spend an hour flipping through board books, banging puzzle pieces together and stacking Duplos. These toys inspire creativity in her in a way baby dolls don’t.
Kids are Constantly Changing
I’m fully aware that, at some point, my son or daughter could develop a fascination with dolls. And I would have no issue providing them one to incorporate into their play. But until that happens I’m content to skip the doll aisle.
Mommies, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Share your thoughts below!