Boys and Doll Play
Archives, Childhood, Parenting, Waldorf Dolls

Boys and Doll Play

KYLA B. WROTE TO ASK:

I am a single mother to a nearly 15-month-old little boy. I was wondering if you might be able to give me with some information on boys playing with dolls. I was hoping you could address the benefits of boys playing with dolls. I have had some disapproving comments and looks from other parents when I try and discuss this with them.

People are concerned that my son has too much of a female influence in his life,  as my son has no father and we live with my parents, but my father is a wonderful role model for my son and they have a very close bond.

People are also under the impression that boys play with trucks and girls with dolls. But I think all toys are for everybody. I thought dolls would help teach my son compassion, caring and even the beginnings of responsibility.

Please help me, Sarah. I’m feeling a little confused as to how to incorporate dolls into my son’s daily play and also how to respond to the critics. Am I best to purchase a weighted doll as my son’s first doll and put his current doll away for later? Or is he not ready yet for dolls?

SARAH RESPONDS:

There is a fear among many men that playing with dolls will make boys less masculine. Sadly, there are some women who also share this belief.

We’ve been conditioned for so many decades to think that boys play with trucks and cars and girls play with dolls and too many boys have been told that playing with dolls is for “sissies.”

This thinking needs to be changed.

Giving a boy a doll gives him the opportunity to explore his nurturing and caring side, and can teach a boy as much about being a father, just as dolls teach girls about motherhood.

Children imitate the adults around them in their play. When mothers and fathers model nurturing, caring behavior, boys and girls will imitate this in their doll play and this is healthy! It teaches children about relationships and empathy.

If a boy spends his days at home with his mother (whether she is a single parent or not) he will want to imitate her activities. This is normal.

This is natural. This is good. He is practicing parenting.

Times have changed. Today’s fathers tend to me much more involved in child-rearing than they were decades ago. It is not uncommon anymore to see a dad with a baby in a sling, or pushing a stroller.

Since children are imitative, it is natural for them to want to carry a dolly in a sling or push one in toy carriage.

And it’s curious how culturally it seems more acceptable to allow a girl to play with traditional “boy toys.” Most people don’t think twice watching a girl playing with building sets, Legos, or toy cars. In fact, many parents are now encouraging their daughters to play with these so called “STEM toys” and teaching their daughters that they can grow up to be a mother and have a career.

So why do so many adults seem alarmed when they see little boys playing with dolls or “playing house” and pretending to cook in a play kitchen? Don’t we want our sons to grow up to caring fathers and capable of cooking a meal?

We need to change our way of thinking and educate others that doll play is important if we want boys to grow up to be nurturing, caring fathers. It doesn’t make them any less masculine.

I believe that all parents of boys should give their son a doll to love. I recommend giving a boy his first doll between 18-months and three-years-old, before he has gotten the memo that boys don’t play with dolls. A one-year-old will probably have little interest in a doll other than to explore it with his senses as he would any other object.

But at 18-24 months he may start snuggling with and be comforted by a favorite soft doll. But it is around age 4-5 when children really begin imitative pretend play with dolls.

It can also be very helpful to give a boy a doll when a new younger sibling is on the way, and can help prepare your child emotionally for the new arrival. Our Heavy Baby Dolls (with their weight that makes them feel like a real baby) are wonderful for this purpose!

What if you give your son a doll and he shows no interest in it? I get this question a lot. I would advise you not to worry. Not all children are going to respond to all toys the same way. If he is too young for it, keep it around and he may show interest in it later.

Some boys become very attached to a special doll, other boys show little interest. Children are unique, just as adults are. There is no one-size-fits-all toy.

The important thing is to give provide your son with a doll and give him the opportunity to develop his nurturing and caring side through play. But remember that there are many ways that children learn to become nurturing and caring adults – the primary way is by being cared for by nurturing parents.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memories as an early childhood teacher as I observed the children in my class during free play. I will never forget the day when Wilson, a little boy in my class who was always full energy and joy, was pretending to nurse a dolly that was tucked under his sweater. He held the baby securely with one arm while he brandished a wooden sword in the other, engaged in a lively sword fight with another boy.

Wilson is a wonderful reminder that boys can play with dolls and be no less of a boy!

Are you the mother of a boy? Have you given your son a doll? Does he play with it? Please share your comments!

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11 Comments

  • Reply Kyla B. May 9, 2016 at 7:55 pm

    Thank you so much for your blog post!

    I feel I now have the words to use to explain my decision to encourage my son to play with dolls and home corner toys such as toy kitchens. My son already loves his tea set. The first time he ‘poured’ me a cup of tea I almost cried. It was a beautiful moment between us. I recently gave my son his first play silk (starry night) and he adores it too! The Waldorf toys are so wonderful for igniting the imagination.

    I will definitely have to save up some money to purchase him a weighted doll from your store, along with a rocker board. What an amazing toy that looks to be! So open ended!

    Thank you again, Sarah.

    Kindest Regards,
    Kyla

  • Reply Cindy May 10, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    So beautifully stated Sarah! I wrote this a few years back about ALL of the things we need to encourage our boys to do.
    http://zachaboard.blogspot.com/2011/04/if-you-give-boy.html

  • Reply Sandra May 11, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    I enjoyed this post. Excellent post, particularly about the dichotomy between what we allow each gender—boys can play like boys, girls can play like girls, and girls can play like boys, but boys still can’t play like girls. It’s unfair to both boys and girls.

    I have four boys, ages 9 to 2months. We have usually had a doll around since my oldest was a toddler. Their interests in doll has waxed and waned, but each boy has gone through periods of doll play. They have never been intensely nurturing, but they connect with it in a different way than tbey do their stuffed animals. With a new little brother here, they are definitely happy to spend time holding him and trying to help care for him. It has been a better new-baby transition than last time (when, now that I think of it, the doll wasn’t out much). They also love the tea and food set … then put it down to play Legos or sword-fight or trains or some other game. I am glad that they are well-rounded. :)

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin May 18, 2016 at 10:46 pm

      Yes, it is an unfortunate double standard, isn’t it, Sandra? I also find it sad that girls regularly read books with boy protagonists (think Harry Potter), but very few boys read books with a girl protagonist (for instance The Secret Garden).

  • Reply Tamsyn May 19, 2016 at 11:33 am

    I am so happy to see this post — and I could not agree more about the urgent need to banish stereotypes about what defines “girl” or “boy.” As the mother of a 16-month-old boy (my first child), I surprised even myself (being a very independent-minded person who doesn’t care how society perceives my child-rearing choices) at how angry I became at seeing the rampant gender-stereotyping in so many things — toys, books, even in how we market clothing for babies (many websites or stores that have “girl clothes” and “boy clothes,” and how different the prints and colors are).

    My husband and I believe deeply in nature as a role model, and in letting our son’s inherent personality and interests guide him. Nature doesn’t discriminate with its color selections — many of the most resplendent color patterns are found on males (bold pinks included!). Nature also reveals how important fathers are in many species to care and nurturing of their young. So why shouldn’t our human boys have the chance to express their own nurturing sides?

    And speaking of dolls, my son goes to a Waldorf-influenced in-home daycare near my workplace during the work week, and one of his current favorite toys is a big baby doll — one of those from perhaps the late 1980s, with a soft body by firm head, hands and feet. He’s been intrigued by this doll for at least 2-3 months, but recently, he’s started picking him or her up (I like to interchange pronouns too, so my son doesn’t think all baby dolls are girls — another tendency in our society) and carrying the doll around, bouncing it on the floor, wanting to put it back in its bed.

    It’s wonderful to watch, and I hope will help him reflect the love and nurturing that we give him. I’ve been trying to decide what style of baby doll I should get for my son to have as his own doll at home, so this post was very timely! I hope the tide starts turning more in mainstream society, and more boys are supported and encouraged to explore their nurturing, domestic impulses.

  • Reply Jill May 23, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    My sons never played with traditional dolls, despite having them in the house. My oldest, however, got a toy horse when he was 5, and he and Horsie are inseparable (he is 8). For his 8th birthday he asked for a stuffed dolphin–Lemon Meringue now goes everywhere that Horsie does–the library, the park, outside, to our schoolroom…I’m not a stickler about using human-like dolls, or Waldorf dolls; it just took the right sort of doll for him. Our youngest is starting to carry around a little bear, so Albert may be the next Horsie!

    As a side note, which may be horrifying to some, we gave all our children the same toys–dolls and a doll house, a wooden kitchen, tea sets, wood and metal trucks, Legos…and the boys generally gravitated toward “boy” things (though they love pink!) and the girl toward “girl” things. Since they don’t go to school, and don’t interact much with other kids (and don’t use television or computers), this seems to be innate behavior, which I find interesting.

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin May 23, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Thanks for your comments, Jill. Yes, many studies have been done that prove that boys tend to gravitate toward “boy toys” and girls to “girl toys,” even without any pre-conditioning. But I think you’ve done your children a service by giving them all the same toys to play with — building toys, play kitchens, dolls, trucks, and so forth — to see what they gravitate toward and to lend balance to their play.

  • Reply Debbie Alexander January 7, 2017 at 10:02 am

    When my son was a toddler, Santa brought him a Cabbage Patch Doll. I remember my dad not being too happy about this. “Boys don’t play with dolls,” he said. It was my thought that having a doll to nurture would help him to be a good father some day.
    Now, he is a 38 yr old father of a beautiful daughter and husband to my wonderful daughter in law, Jamie.
    He plays soccer with his daughter, as well as having tea parties and baking with her.

  • Reply Sylvette Lamain January 8, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Agree completely with giving mixed toys to both sexes, they need the exposition to choices, when i grew up i had twin boys friends as neighbords, one of them always played with me and the other girls with dolls etc, he got married, had 2 sons, his wife passed away from cancer, he was left to take care of the boys and is the best dad. His tween brother was all rough boy, became a professor and is very strait and righteous, severe not sweet… i had a son and now a grand son of 4, and he likes dolls and he carries them under his shirt like mommy did with him and he is all boy a little rough at times….

  • Reply Michelle July 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    I raised four sons and a daughter. One son had a boy doll that he was quite fond of. No one in the family made an issue of it. He is now married, is a great dad, a firefighter, and paramedic.

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