Thursday, June 7, 2018

Guest Post: Significance of Dolls in Child's Play

The doll is a universal toy, loved by children around the world.

The following guest post, The Significance of Dolls in Child's Play, was written by Melisa Marzett.  All photos are public domain images.

The doll is one of the oldest toys in the world. It can be found in the nursery of most every child. It seems that it is just a simple toy, an image of a person. However, it has a strong impact on a child's psychological and social development.

Developing value of dolls

A little child doll owner, a boy or a girl, is usually constantly in contact with a doll. It will remain a companion for a long time, from infancy on.  During this time, it will affect the child's social development, sense of self, and awareness of others.

After a few years of child’s play, Lego, puzzles, and traditional toys like dolls are often considered obsolete and serving only for fun and as purely girlish toys. Thus, parents try to replace them. However, not everyone realizes that depriving a child, especially at a young age, of communicating with a doll, might slow down their social development. After all, the doll has special functions in the development of the child's psyche.

One of such functions is the development of sentimental feelings, as well as morality. A doll represents a certain image of a person in a child's game. When a child does not have a friend in the game, the doll perfectly performs this function. It is an ideal friend who is always there and does not remember bad things. Playing with it, a child can act as she pleases, and no one will interfere or condemn.

Often in the process of the game with a doll (doll play), the child projects some inner experiences onto it and loses them in different situations. He can also develop qualities that he does not possess, for example, courage. With a doll “friend,” it will not be as scary for a child to enter a dark room or sleep in one alone.  

Playing with dolls, little children imitate the actions of adults. They bathe the doll, as they bathe themselves, dress it, and comb its hair, etc. With dolls, older children role-play everyday family and life situations as they reflect and often attempt to make life the way they would like it.

Initially, the child speaks for the doll, pronounces its actions, and in this pronunciation conceals the rudiment of the role-playing game. The process of playing with the doll also satisfies the cognitive activity of the child. Considering the doll, the child explores herself, forms an idea of her body, her abilities.  Curiosity is often satisfied with destructive actions with the doll: the child breaks, undresses, cuts the hair or otherwise deconstructs the doll through anger or just to figure out how it was made.

The way a child will play with a doll also depends on its look. The aggressive look of the doll provokes, accordingly, an aggressive, warlike type of play. More delicate features, larger size, relative to the size of the body, the size of the head, plumpness – evoke care and patronage. The doll sets the image of the person, forms the concept of the child about good and bad.

The doll promotes the development of fantasy, especially if it has undeveloped facial features. This makes children's fantasy work. It can laugh or cry, get angry or show its tongue, and all this with the static, immobile face of the doll and the beautiful work of the child's imagination.

Influence of the material and forms of the doll on the mental development of the child

The appearance of the doll, the texture of the material from which it is made, its proportions – all this, too, undoubtedly influences the psyche of the child.

For over fifty years, Barbie and friends have been constant fashion-doll companions for children worldwide.

Consider the influence of proportions. The correct proportions of the doll form the correct ideas about the body in the child. In addition, this is very important for further mental and physical health. This is especially true for girls, as they are more susceptible to the influence of such disproportionate dolls as Barbie. Playing with them, the girls lay their own misconceptions about the figure, and growing up.  They might torture themselves with diets to become slimmer, to achieve an imaginary ideal body.  Developing a negative self-image is another case that confirms the influence of the doll’s proportions on the child.

The quality and texture of the material from which the doll is made, also have significance. This was established by research. Children refer to toys made from different materials in different ways. Soft and fluffy materials cause positive emotions, stimulate the child to play. At the same time, rough and cold materials cause a negative attitude.

Therefore, the child needs a correct selection of dolls based on materials and proportions. If this is not done, the doll will have a negative impact on the child.

Boys and dolls

The topic of boys playing with dolls is broached on the OWN TV series, Queen Sugar, wherein Blue's doll, Kenya, is seen as his inanimate playmate.

Most adults are confident that playing dolls is for girls only. However, boys, 2-3 years old, willingly play with dolls: they put the doll to sleep, carry in a carriage, or hold in their hands. Dads are usually surprised and greatly shocked by this behavior.  This is absolutely normal behavior for any child of this age because it is an imitation of adults. The child does the same things his mom does to him. There is the development of social and emotional spheres of life. In such a way, the child learns to interact with others. However, usually by the decision of adults, the boy plays with a variety of technical toys, or some monsters or soldiers, instead of dolls. In this, the child loses a full emotional development.  The development of aggressive behavior takes place; the boy does not learn proper interaction, does not receive a full social experience.

Consequently, it is important that at least at this age the boy has the opportunity to play with dolls. It is not necessary to understand this game as dolls for girls because there are different types of dolls. Growing up, boys more than likely will switch to other types of toys, more characteristic for their gender if their desire to play with or appreciate dolls diminishes.

The socializing effect of dolls

Socialization affects the child from the very moment of birth. It manifests itself in almost everything: attitude, education, training, play. Socialization is very active in the game, especially with dolls.

These dolls represent a variety of ethnicities and provide a choice of diversity for children.
A doll is an image of a person, an invariable partner of a child in almost all of his games. Therefore, it can be called even the most socializing toy. Playing dolls represents the reflection of social experience. It is aimed at developing in the child the ability to communicate, correct behavior in life situations, and the development of social intelligence. Through the doll, the child assimilates the moral standards of the society in which he lives; an image of a person; his behavior is formed, and such categories as, good and bad, beautiful and ugly are cognized.

A boy plays the role of a surgeon for a doll patient as two girls assist in a pretend operation.

In younger school-age children, repeating actions of adults takes place through doll play. At an older age, children’s role-playing with dolls is more sophisticated in a broader social context:  they play doctor, hairdresser, daughter-mother, etc. In these games, the child builds herself, mastering the world of human relations and ideas that she develops. Some researchers believe that the game of daughter-mother is a manifestation of the maternal instinct in a girl. However, this game reproduces social relations, acceptance in a given society, as well as the social division of childcare. In addition, through the game with the doll, the child expresses her inner world. So, in recreating family relationships, trying on the roles of family members, you can see how the child sees his family, what's bothering her now, or what she wants to see in her family.

Playing with the doll, the child reproduces human relationships in his fictional world, assimilates the laws of society. Therefore, the doll is one of the main socializing toys.

The negative influence of the wrongly chosen doll

The doll, however, can also have a negative influence on the child's psyche.  When the toy is not correctly selected, is not in accordance with the age of the child, or the child simply does not like the doll, the child’s psyche can be impacted negatively.  Parents must take into consideration age appropriateness and also what the child likes.

Clearly, fixed images of dolls can also have a negative impact on children. Barbie dolls and all sorts of monsters are good examples of this. What happens when a child has clearly fixed human images and a programmed way of behavior in the toy? The first is a blockage, inhibition of the child's imagination and independence. The given image is so strong that it cannot be changed. So, playing with monsters is always a pursuit, a battle, a devouring. Playing with Barbie dolls is an endless series of disguises and purchases, narcissism, and rivalry. The disadvantage of such dolls is not even that they are too naturalistic, or that they have too pronounced aggressiveness or sexual characteristics, but that they deprive the child of the opportunity to act independently:  invent, imagine and think, that is, play. These dolls offer strictly defined actions:  what and how to dress, which button to press, what to feed, etc. Children can only reproduce the proposed stereotypes of actions, which they willingly do. The main qualities that should be manifested and developed in child’s play – freedom of action, emotional saturation, creative activity, ingenuity – remain completely unclaimed and do not develop. The child seems to be manipulating the toy, but in reality, the toy imposes certain actions on him. The game is replaced by manipulation.

We must understand that by reducing the child’s game to monotonous and stereotyped movements, we limit his ability to make independent meaningful actions, and therefore slow down his development. In all these cases, there can be no question of any game. The child, by pressing the buttons, becomes a prefix, and the program manages his actions.

That's how the doll's negative influences on the child's psyche are manifested, but they only show up when the doll is incorrectly chosen.

As an ever-present companion, the doll becomes the child's first or often best friend.  It becomes a constant partner for games and at the same time a mentor and silent teacher of human relationships. Thanks to the game with the doll, the child loses various everyday situations or learns to correctly navigate in them. Together with the doll, s/he goes through the lessons of socialization.

Again, if the doll is improperly chosen, it can have a negative, inhibitory effect on child development. Therefore, adults/parents must consider the child’s age and the doll’s appropriateness for the child. Only then, considering all the peculiarities, it is possible to achieve the most harmonious development of the child's personality as influenced by doll’s play.


About the author:  Our guest writer, Melisa Marzett, has been writing since she was a child.  She currently works for Her other published articles can be read on different websites dedicated to various subjects, e.g. travel blogs, cooking blogs, beauty tips blogs, technology blogs, etc.

Thank you for this interesting contribution, Ms. Marzett!


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  1. Thank you for posting this. My sister had a baby when my son was two and because of my son's fascination with his new cousin, I bought him a Timmy Tears and a toy stroller etc. He really enjoyed taking care of the doll and taking it out for a walk, however I was really shocked when a woman stopped us in the street and told me it was disgusting that my son had a doll - I really hadn't expected a reaction like that, especially from another woman! I really hope attitudes have changed in the last 25-ish years as I'd hate for another parent or child to experience that kind of prejudice.

    1. What an awful experience. That was definitely a case of someone needing to mind their own business.

      Attitudes about gender-labeling toys might be more relaxed now, but not much. I am sure whispers, stares, and even verbal lashings might still happen today when a child is seen with a toy that is traditionally not designed for his/her gender.



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