How to Play with Dolls

Written By: Psychologist Natasha Tanic

A famous Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, said that play is the work of childhood, emphasizing the importance of play in a child’s learning and development.

Kids’ minds were built to explore, play, and learn, not to be taught.

In other words, kids are active learners who gain experiences and build upon their existing knowledge through play.

Dolls are one of the oldest toys that haven’t lost a bit of their popularity after all these years.

From a soft, plush doll to a Barbie, from teddy bears to action figures, dolls are still among children’s favorite toys.

They provide entertainment, ‘company’, comfort, and many learning opportunities.

For an infant, a plush doll provides comfort. When your baby is upset, her favorite soft toy helps her self-soothe and calm down.

Dressing a baby doll, changing her diaper, or doing her hair helps improve a toddler’s grasping skills and precision.

Playing with dolls can also help toddlers and older kids develop self-help skills, imagination, language, and motor skills.

How Make-Believe Play with Dolls Helps Your Child’s Development

Encourage make-believe play and observe your child while she is playing.

Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy playing pretend games with their dolls.

They observe adults’ behaviors and model those behaviors with dolls: your toddler will feed his baby doll, ‘change’ her diapers, make her a cup of tea, and take her to the doctor (or be the dolls’ doctor!).

Make-Believe Boosts Social and Emotional Development

These simple make-believe games with dolls offer your child the opportunity to explore social situations and practice social roles.

Pretend-play also helps kids practice conflict resolution and develop self-esteem and confidence.

What is more, kids usually identify themselves with dolls, which promotes social and emotional development.

By identifying with her doll, your toddler will learn self-expression and initiative-taking.

For example, if she feels upset but doesn’t know how to word her feelings, your child will say, “My doll is sad”, “My doll is crying”, or “She is angry because…”, etc.

So, pretend-play with dolls provides a safe environment for kids to learn about emotions, practice emotional control, and constructively express their feelings.

It helps them solve problems and make decisions.

Also, through play with dolls, children are building up their communication skills, learning compassion and kindness, and developing empathy.

Playing with Dolls Teaches Kids Responsibility

Taking care of a doll (feeding, bathing, or dressing a doll) teaches your child the importance of nurturing and taking responsibility.

Make-believe play allows kids to lose themselves in a moment, developing imagination and creativity.

However, take into consideration your child’s age and his development needs when buying a doll.

If your child is too young to play with a certain doll, he won’t enjoy the full benefits of that toy.

And vice versa, if your child is too old, he might soon lose interest in playing with that doll.

For example, dolls that teach self-help skills like lacing or buttoning can be a challenge for a toddler and may provoke frustration and anxiety.

At the same time, these dolls are a great choice for a preschooler.

How to Play with a Doll with Your Child

Playing together with your child is very important because it helps learn social skills such as sharing and selflessness.

Also, the way your little one is playing with a doll gives you an insight into your child’s life and development.

Pretend-play with a doll (or the absence of it) can help you spot any difficulties or delays in your child’s development.

For example, a child on autism spectrum will rarely show interest in playing with dolls and toys in general.

Playing with a doll aggressively or violently is also a child’s way to express their feelings that deserves your attention.

Therefore, if your child is unhappy, angry, or afraid, or when he finds it difficult to deal with emotions, pretend-play allows you to assist him with emotional expression.

Finally, playtime with dolls with your child is a wonderful opportunity to bond and have lots of fun together.

Here are some suggestions on how to play with a doll with your child.

If your little one loves playing with dolls, join him in this fun activity and help him dress, feed, and groom her doll.

This is a great opportunity to help your child start developing a healthy body image and self-esteem.

Also, mutual play will help your child practice sharing and turn-taking and teach him about social roles and responsibilities.

A Tea/Brunch Party
Help your little one arrange the table and ‘prepare’ everything for the tea, brunch, or dinner party.

Include a pretend-play kitchen, pretend-food, plastic play dishes, and dolls in your play.

This is a wonderful opportunity to teach your child good table manners and how to behave in group settings.

Playing Doctor
If your child is scared of going to the doctor, this is a perfect way to help overcome his fears.

Pretend to take the sick baby doll to the doctor and allow your child to play the doctor who nurses and heals the doll.

You can also play a dentist, a nurse, or any other medical themed game.

Arts and Crafts Play
Allowing your child to get messy and creative promotes imagination, problem-solving, and motor skills.

Prepare items of different shapes, textures, and sizes and make a doll with your child.

You can make paper dolls together, (helping your toddler to cut out shapes or supervising your preschooler or a school-age child), mold dolls out of play dough, use old socks, yarn, pipe cleaners, or buttons, beads, and other small items (supervising your child all the time).

These activities help kids learn cooperation and problem-solving, improve fine motor skills, and make them proud of themselves, therefore boosting self-esteem and confidence.


Dolls are one of the oldest and favorite toys among girls and boys regardless of their age.

They provide much more than play, as playing with dolls is also a great opportunity for your child to learn and develop.

You can help your child’s development by choosing the age-appropriate dolls and playing together with your little one.


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