I don’t want to be too dramatic here but I am very concerned that baby dolls—the dolls that look like real babies—have mostly been replaced by fashion dolls and other toys. Yet baby dolls play an important part in a child’s social and emotional development. Of equal concern is that some children who have baby dolls are never taught how to play with them properly; the dolls are tossed into the toybox with all the other toys. That is such a waste because with a favorite baby doll and some adult guidance, children are able to practice parenting, nurturing, and emotional intelligence.
I am using female pronouns for the child in this letter, but I believe that baby dolls for boys is an idea whose time has come. Boys grow up to be men and most men become fathers. Shouldn’t we do more to prepare our sons to be good fathers?
First, about parenting. Your child learns how to parent by watching you. Extend this lesson by helping her parent her doll. Guide your child to treat the doll as one would a real baby. This, of course, means that a doll isn’t tossed just any old place. Provide a bed, such as a cardboard box with blanket, and a few other necessities. Then guide your child by using observation and questions such as, “Your baby looks cold, maybe she needs to be covered up.” Or, “Your baby looks uncomfortable, maybe she needs to be in her bed.” Suggest when the “baby” is hungry and talk about what kinds of foods the baby can eat. Most dolls come with little diapers, so teach diaper changing too.
The mechanics of parenting are one thing; but nurturing with love is equally important. When playing with the baby doll together (teaching through play) talk about a range of emotions, what causes the emotions, and how a parent can react to them. If your child is prone to frustrations, then the doll can be prone to frustrations. Let your child problem solve to “help” her doll overcome the frustration of the moment. It might be by allowing the doll to sit until she is less frustrated and then finding a solution to the pretend problem. Encourage her to do for the doll whatever you are working on at home, but in fun and play.
You can also teach love as opposed to spoiling. For example, pretend that the doll wants a cookie right before dinner. You are sad with the doll because she cannot immediately have a cookie, but you explain that after she eats a bit of healthy dinner she can have a cookie for desert. Then of course, pretend to cook eat dinner and have that cookie.
Add to the fun of playing with baby dolls by giving accessories, such as doll strollers and more clothes, at birthdays, holidays, and special treat days. With a dolly diaper bag your child can take her doll on trips and visits, providing entertainment where ever she goes.
A baby doll is something your child will cherish for years. It will provide fun and many opportunities for play and teaching.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.