Written By: Psychologist Natasha Tanic
Even in the world that is changing in so many ways these days, girls still play with dolls, and boys generally opt for cars and trucks.
Many parents don’t want to force any rigid gender norms onto their children and often express concerns over their little ones’ preferences for gendered toys.
To promote gender equality and overcome stereotypical preferences, try buying your kids gender-neutral toys and allowing them the freedom to decide what toys they’ll play with.
For most girls, dolls sit high on the list of the best toys ever.
Your girl loves playing with her favorite doll because dolls provide fun and endless opportunities for play and exploration.
Your little one’s imagination allows her to identify with her doll.
By identifying with the doll, your daughter learns to express her feelings and needs, manage emotions, and make decisions.
Also, dolls help your child develop her language and speech, reinforce communication, and boost compassion and empathy.
However, recent research suggests that boys’ and girls’ preferences for gendered toys are not only rooted in social roles and expectations (boys are expected to be tough, and girls to be nurturing).
There is a rather scientific explanation as to why girls play with dolls while boys prefer trucks and cars.
The Science behind Your Child’s Toy Preferences
Some experts believe that kids’ preferences for toys are inborn and natural, not socially constructed and shaped.
According to Debra Soh, a sexual neuroscientist at York University in Toronto, toy preferences develop early in life – most infants will demonstrate gendered toy preferences between 18 and 23 months of age.
When offered a variety of toys, girls will typically choose the doll while boys will pick the truck.
Soh believes that most girls play with dolls because they are attracted to the social aspect of this toy.
Dolls, therefore, promote girls’ social and verbal skills.
At the same time, boys prefer playing with toys like trucks and cars because they find them mechanically interesting.
Such toys encourage the development of visuospatial and motor skills.
In short, the gendered toys kids choose will help them develop the skills related to their gender roles.
Another survey suggests that some gender norms are biologically determined because male and female brains are constructed differently. This causes girls and boys to prefer different toys.
These biological explanations for toy preferences are not seen only in humans.
In one study on rhesus monkeys, female adolescent monkeys preferred playing with dolls while the males picked cars and trucks.
Although these findings don’t mean that girls necessarily prefer dolls while boys prefer things like trucks and construction sets, they suggest that biological influences exist and may impact your child’s preferences.
Why Should You Play with a Doll with Your Girl?
From plush dolls, baby dolls, and dollhouses to Barbie and American Girl, dolls are among the favorite toys of childhood.
They boost your child’s imagination, teach responsibility, and generally promote social and emotional development.
Because dolls are so close to the human form, they may strongly influence a girl’s body image and her perception of a woman’s body.
Because some dolls may present an unrealistic idea of a woman’s body, it is important that you play together with your little girl and use every opportunity to foster a healthy body image from the earliest age.
Playing dolls with your girl can be a great way to help her learn about her feelings, thoughts, and needs.
Plus it can help her express complicated emotions she still doesn’t have the words for.
You can also use dolls to teach your child emotional control, empathy, and compassion.
Much of what your child learns, she learns by imitation.
So she will most likely treat the people around her in a similar way you treat her doll.
Should Boys Play with Dolls?
When it comes to toys, many parents want to promote gender equity.
Toy companies are now creating boy dolls especially for boys , such as Logan Everett by American Girl.
These dolls can be a great way to teach your child that it is okay for boys to play with dolls.
Many boys love playing with baby dolls, changing their diapers, feeding them, taking them to the doctor, etc.
However, if your son wants to play with a Barbie, that’s perfectly normal too.
Boys and girls often play with some of the same toys but in a different way.
For example, while a girl plays with Barbie doing her hair, dressing her up, etc., a boy may “allow” Barbie to drive his favorite car.
Strong masculine norms still persist in our society today.
The “real man” stereotype can cause boys to grow up to be emotionally-withdrawn men who bottle up their feelings and fail to address their mental health issues.
They often avoid sharing emotions as this may be seen as a sign of weakness.
Many parents discourage their sons’ doll play.
One study showed that parents are pretty open-minded when it comes to girls playing with toys designed for boys.
However, when asked if it is okay for little boys to play with Barbies and dolls, only 36 percent of parents agreed.
Not providing your son with the opportunity to play with dolls enforces a stereotype that may thwart your child’s healthy emotional development.
Play is the most important activity of childhood and should be open to all.
It is very appropriate for boys to play with dolls and choose how they are going to play with them.
Research also shows that boys can learn skills of nurturing, caretaking, compassion, and empathy through doll play.
Dolls can also play an important role in identity, gender, and sexuality.
Playing with dolls, kitchens, or dress up props teaches cooperation, sparks imagination and creativity.
It also helps boys develop their language, motor, and social-emotional skills.
Pretend play in the toy kitchen teaches kids to enjoy preparing meals.
Playing with baby dolls helps your child understand babies in real life and it is a wonderful opportunity to prepare your child for the presence of newborns.
These toys help young boys learn how to interact with others and solve conflicts.
Girls and boys need to have opportunities to play with all types of toys in a variety of ways.
Play is an essential part of your child’s development and learning, so children should be given the choice of what to play with and how to play.
So, when buying toys for your little one, always consider whether the toys are developmentally appropriate for your child, instead of being gender-specific.