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The surprising benefits of playing with dolls

Do children still play with dolls in this digital age? The answer is a resounding yes, and here's why encouraging doll play is beneficial for toddlers and young children.

By Laura Cooke | Last updated Jan 16, 2024

child holding four Barbie dolls

In today's fast-paced digital world, where the best tablets for kids allow you to access movies and games at the touch of a button, the simple act of playing with dolls might seem rather old-fashioned. 

However, research consistently shows that this timeless activity offers a myriad of benefits for a child's development. From fostering creativity to building empathy, here are some of the surprising advantages of encouraging children to engage in imaginative play with dolls.

1. Enhances social skills

Playing with dolls provides children with an opportunity to practice and enhance their social skills. Through role-playing scenarios, kids learn valuable lessons in communication, cooperation and negotiation. These social interactions contribute to the development of emotional intelligence, a crucial skill for navigating relationships later in life.

Read next: Best toys for 3 year olds: gifts preschoolers will love

2. Sparks creativity and imagination

Playing with dolls encourages children to use their imaginations and creativity. Whether they're inventing intricate storylines with their favourite Disney Princess or constructing miniature worlds with their LOL Surprise collection, this type of play stimulates the brain and helps children develop problem-solving skills. Imaginative play with dolls allows kids to explore their creativity in a safe and open-ended way.

Read next: Discover the top 10 creative toys for kids to inspire their imagination

3. Promotes language development

child playing doctors with Barbie dolls

Engaging in conversations with dolls helps children improve their language skills. By giving a voice to their dolls and creating dialogues, children practice vocabulary, sentence structure, and storytelling. This kind of interactive play serves as a fun and effective tool for language development. Plus it’s quite cute to hear a three-year-old chatting with her Baby Annabell when she thinks no one is listening.

Read next: Best online tutoring websites: find the right tutor for your child

4. Builds empathy and emotional intelligence

Doll play provides a platform for children to explore and understand emotions. Through caring for their dolls, children learn empathy, compassion, and the importance of nurturing relationships. This emotional awareness can have a positive impact on how children relate to others in real-life situations.

Read next: 10 of the best play kitchens: tried and tested toy kitchens for mini chefs in the making

5. Develops fine motor skills

Manipulating dolls and their accessories helps refine a child's fine motor skills. From dressing dolls to arranging furniture in dollhouses, these activities require hand-eye coordination and precision. The development of fine motor skills is crucial for tasks such as writing, tying shoelaces, and other essential life skills.

Read next: The best books for 3-year-olds: brilliant books little ones will love

6. Encourages gender roles exploration

Best dolls prams

Sure, Barbie can be a princess or a mermaid, but she can also be a firefighter, doctor or polar marine biologist too.

Doll play allows children to experiment with different roles and scenarios, fostering a sense of open-mindedness and helps them to understand and respect diverse perspectives. Dolls can serve as a tool for breaking down stereotypes and promoting inclusivity.

So while it may seem like a simple pastime, playing with dolls holds a wealth of benefits for a child's overall development. From enhancing social skills to promoting creativity and empathy, the impact of doll play reaches far beyond the surface. By encouraging this classic form of play, parents can be safe in the knowledge that they are contributing to a child's well-rounded growth and helping them to prepare for the challenges of the future.

Looking to build on your child’s doll play? Check out Mumsnet’s guide to the best dolls prams, as recommended by parents.

About the author

Laura Cooke is a Content Editor at Mumsnet, with a special focus on toddler play, child play and outdoor play. She is a mum of two and lives in Sussex.

Laura is a freelance journalist and has written for a range of publications including The Daily Mirror, the i, Metro, Stylist and Happiful.