When Dolls are More Than a Simple Plaything

Girl Playing with Keptin-Jr Doll on Beach

Dolls are often considered a classic and beloved toy for children. However, research has shown that they are much more than just a source of entertainment. Doll play has been found to promote the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children, making them a valuable tool for parents, educators, and caregivers to encourage in children.

One study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that playing with dolls activates multiple regions in the brain, including the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These areas are responsible for a range of functions, such as problem-solving, emotion regulation, and social cognition. Playing with dolls has been found to promote the development of theory of mind, which is the ability to understand that others have different beliefs, desires, and perspectives from our own. Theory of mind is an essential skill for building empathy and social relationships.

Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician and author of The Toddler Brain, emphasizes the importance of imaginative play with dolls. "Dolls have long been used as a tool to help children develop empathy, social and emotional awareness, and problem-solving skills," she says. "Through doll play, children are able to explore social roles, relationships, and scenarios in a safe, non-threatening way."

In addition to cognitive development, playing with dolls also has significant social benefits for children. Doll play encourages children to engage in cooperative play, taking turns, and sharing. By playing with dolls together, children learn how to negotiate and navigate social relationships, which is crucial for building strong friendships and successful interpersonal relationships later in life.

A study published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development found that playing with dolls can help children develop language skills as well. Children who played with dolls were found to engage in more verbal 

interactions with their peers than those who did not play with dolls. The study's authors suggest that playing with dolls provides children with opportunities to practice communication and language skills, as they engage in conversations and role-playing scenarios with their dolls.

The emotional benefits of playing with dolls are also noteworthy. Through playing with dolls, children are able to explore their own emotions and learn how to regulate them. This is especially important for children who struggle with expressing themselves verbally, as dolls provide a safe and non-threatening outlet for emotional expression.

Dr. Rebecca Parlakian, senior director of programs at Zero to Three, a nonprofit focused on early childhood development, highlights the emotional benefits of doll play. "Doll play is important because it helps young children develop a sense of self and express their emotions," she says. "When children play with dolls, they are able to project their own experiences and emotions onto the dolls, helping them understand their own feelings and experiences in a more tangible way."

It's important to note that not all dolls are created equal. The quality and materials of a doll can impact its value for child development. Dolls made with safe, durable, and environmentally-friendly materials, like organic cotton, are a good option. These materials are not only safer for children, but they also provide a softer and more comfortable play experience.

Doll play is an important activity for children that has numerous cognitive, social, and emotional benefits. Playing with dolls provides children with opportunities to engage in imaginative play, practice social skills, develop language and communication skills, and explore their own emotions. 

As Dr. Parlakian notes, "Dolls are not just toys; they are tools for learning and development." By providing children with access to high-quality dolls, parents, educators, and caregivers can help support children's growth and development in a fun and meaningful way.

Girl with keptin-jr doll in cradle
Two girls with two keptin-Jr dolls

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