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Encouraging imaginary newborn doll play for all

There’s a gender-confined “rule” that at some young age a girl should receive her very first newborn doll.

When Rosie turned two, we took her to Toys R Us to choose her first newborn doll because she had taken a liking to a particularly manky looking one at our local church and I wasn’t a fan. We found a doll, with a soft body, that she seemed to like it but I struggled with the onslaught of pink. She played with her for a few days and then moved over to other toys. And that was fine, I didn’t feel the need to push her into being a doll lover, especially when it seems so institutionalized that girls must love pink dollies.

No matter how much we protest, gender neutral dolls just don’t seem to be a thing.

I’m waiting for a company to take the initiative (and backlash) and market a doll for both boys and girls. Why? Because it makes no sense that we live back in the stone age where only females should take on child raising. From early on in female childhood development we hand our daughters baby dolls and unconsciously tell them to get ready for a life of motherhood. That’s the first role we prepare them for. Whether they would ever want children or not. Sometimes we get weirded out when they don’t take to dolls. Or we get angry when our sons want to cuddle a baby. Yet there is great importance in introducing, even for a season, imaginary play with newborn dolls.

Recently Rosie was sent the Luvabella Newborn Doll. It’s one of the most interactive dolls on the market. It retails for R1799 which initially seems a lot, but directionally, parents are leaning towards that one big ticket item for birthdays and Christmas rather than lots of little toys that end up being chucked away a month later.

What is so special about the Luvabella newborn doll?

She makes realistic facial movements, sounds, gurgles, and she giggles when you tickle and play with her. She needs to be soothed and burped and when it’s time for a nap, she can be slowly rocked to sleep and her tummy rises and falls to mimic breathing. It’s a lot of details that make up a very unique toy and it has been so interesting to see that it has been Cece who has adopted this little doll and made it her own. A one year old! She is obsessed with holding, cuddling and feeding her baby. But I don’t believe this should be restricted to gender. Nor do I believe that every child needs to be subject to every “right of passage” toy and possession that seems to be the norm.

Playing with a newborn doll means more than just the generic, outdated gender norms, there are a number of psychological reasons why you should be cheering for your kids to to show compassion and interest in a baby doll.

Key benefits of encouraging active, imaginary play with newborn dolls:
  1. It encourages responsibility and compassion. Have you watched the way young children interact with each other? They often don’t fully grasp the idea of being gentle, of looking after the other player and checking to see if they are okay. I noticed that after telling Cece that her baby needs care and needs to eat, her mannerisms were a lot more thoughtful and gentle and when her Luvabella doll cried, she was invested in making her feel better.
  2. It fosters a nurturing nature. Watching my youngest daughter rock and soothe her Luvabella doll is something extraordinary because she has only learnt that from remembering the way I looked after her which means that this is not subject to the female sex. Boys from a young age can easily emulate this caring desire to look after something smaller and more fragile than themselves.
  3. It breaks down gender stereotypes. I find it oddly disturbing that we still cater for the gender bias that all females want to have kids. Yet all men will be the breadwinners and might interact with their kids if they aren’t too tired from a hard day at the office. Teaching all children that looking after a baby’s needs is an equal act for all genders is vital for the growth of our society.
  4. It teaches anatomy. The uproar in schools lately over sex-ed classes and against those who would dare call a pee-pee by its proper name is bizarre. If you’re not able to teach your own kids about their private parts, about differences between genders, then who do you think will…and how do you think they will do it? Fear can cause us to shy away from very important topics that can become warped and twisted when we let media take the lead. A baby doll can be an easy way to show private parts and the importance of knowing what you have and who may see it.
  5. It allows for expression. Children often struggle to fully articulate their emotions and feelings. Imaginary play can assist in breaking down language barriers. From watching parents, children also learn how to communicate and will express this to their toys – this can really help you determine how effectively you’re using your big words 😉

There is no concrete evidence that imaginary play with dolls hampers a boys growth. On the contrary, I believe that it creates an equal playing field for children to discover their individuality – just as I encourage my girls to take up playing with cars and “boy” toys. They need to know that the world is to be explored, that they are not confined to a set life based on being a boy or a girl.

What are your thoughts on playing with newborn dolls? Do you think it would be different if I had boys? Please do leave a comment, I would love to hear from you.

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  • Reply Stacy December 13, 2019 at 6:31 am

    I am a girl mom and a boy mom; my daughter never showed any interest in playing with dolls; my son enjoys it. I’m just happy that they are comfortable to play with the toys that they want to play with and not feel like they are pressured to stay in any particular box!

  • Reply Kim Muller December 13, 2019 at 6:42 am

    Ethan loved to play with dolls. As he got older though, I think the boys at his creche influenced him to stop playing with them. But he will still hold and cuddle some of Harper’s babies when he thinks we’re not looking. I have no issues with boys playing with dolls. Will they not grow up to be dad’s, uncles, husbands? Do we not want to teach them to be nurturing and loving to children?

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