It still amazes me all the negative comments we get from strangers when the boys take their dolls out with them. All I see is two boys loving their babies, but the reaction we get tells me not everyone feels the same way!
I was recently at the supermarket with my two youngest, when a woman approached us. She wrinkled her nose in distaste and asked how old the boys were. When I said they were three and 5 months, she nearly turned purple and shouted, “You should be ashamed of yourself, letting a three year old boy play with a doll! What will happen to him?”
Now used to this confrontation, I smiled at her and said, “What’s happening is that he is modelling how to love and look after his baby brother, and learning how to be a caring father one day. His big brother plays with dolls too.” She looked at me in disgust and stomped off.
It’s unlikely a three year old girl would have got the same negative reaction, yet gender stereotypes mean people overlook the benefits of boys, as well as girls, playing with dolls.
- Dolls and accessories, e.g. baby clothes, bottle and pram
Dolls allow children a better understanding of themselves, as well as those around them. This article by Childventure Blogs explains how playing with dolls can help your child develop:
- Social skills
- Empathy & Compassion
Our Doll Story
Ioan has always loved dolls. We bought these when he was one, to help him become involved in my second pregnancy. He took the responsibility very seriously. He fed them whenever he ate, gave them milk when he had some and pushed them around in their pram.
When Finn was born, Ioan made beds for the dolls out of boxes or baskets. The babies took it in turns coming on dog walks, either being pushed in the pram or being carried in a makeshift baby carrier that we tied round his waist.
By the time Finn started showing an interest, Ioan had three dolls. One called Thomas, then twin girls (one had undergone gender reassignment) named Annie and Clarabel.
Ioan gave Annie to Finn. The three babies came everywhere with us, including the trolley on all our supermarket trips.
Finn and Annie became inseparable. Early on, he would make endless cups of tea to share with her. Now he cooks, or plans tea parties in her honour, then invites Ioan with all of Annie’s friends. Annie helps Finn do jobs around the house and has even helped him cut the lawn!
During my third pregnancy, their obsession with dolls only increased. They spent hours playing an imaginary game called ‘Baby Town’.
When Cian was born, he became an extension of their game. They would sit there chatting and feeding their babies, our real life reflected in their role play.
In turn, it was their role play that made me accept that breastfeeding wasn’t working this time around. Watching them sit, pretending to sob as they fed their own tongue-tied babies, gave me the clarity I needed to overcome the guilt and swap to combination feeding.
Cian is just starting to play with dolls. Currently 5 months old, he loves dolls as much as his brothers. He babbles away to them and stares intently at their faces. The dolls are also a great way to introduce language, he giggles and shrieks as we point to and name their body parts.
At 3, Finn still plays ‘babies’ daily. His baby entourage now includes a baby squirrel and Gruffalo, alongside many imaginary baby animals. He spends a lot of his day caring for them, in both the real and his imaginary world. He changes their nappies, toilets his animals, baths them and brushes their teeth.
Ioan is now five and he still enjoys taking his babies round to the park in the pram. I sometimes wonder how long he will be happy and confident to do so, before he conforms to peer pressure and gender stereotypes.
For now though, I will just ignore the negative comments and enjoy our trips while they last.
DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)
ELG 05 – Health and self-care:
Children know the importance for good health of physical exercise, and a healthy diet, and talk about ways to keep healthy and safe. They manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including dressing and going to the toilet independently.
Personal, social and emotional development
ELG 06 – Self-confidence and self-awareness:
Children are confident to try new activities, and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help.
ELG 07 – Managing feelings and behaviour:
Children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable.
ELG 08 – Making relationships:
Children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.
Understanding the world
ELG 13 – People and communities:
Children talk about past and present events in their own lives and in the lives of family members. They know that other children don’t always enjoy the same things, and are sensitive to this. They know about similarities and differences between themselves and others, and among families, communities and traditions.
ELG 14 – The world:
Children know about similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things. They talk about the features of their own immediate environment and how environments might vary from one another. They make observations of animals and plants and explain why some things occur, and talk about changes.