Why I Let My Boys Play with Baby Dolls & Best Baby Dolls for Toddlers

All of my kids had a "baby" growing up. Around the age of 2 or 2 and a half, they each adopted a little toy companion that they either took everywhere with them, or they at least half-heartedly attempted to care for during certain play situations.

For my oldest daughter is was an African-American plastic baby that her Great-Grandma bought on clearance at the local store. It was always naked, and she would put it into a variety of "peril" situations. (She would dangle it from the top of a dresser and then rescue it. She would set up scenarios where it narrowly escaped a car wreck.)

Each of the next few boys had a simple doll or "stuffy" that they cuddled at night, used as a source of comfort and also "trained" to do people tasks, such as using a fork or wearing a diaper. This occurred naturally, and without our intervention.

My last boy, Manny, just adopted his doll for life. It was a stuffed "Flash" doll that was acquired from one of the crane machines at a hotel arcade. He feeds it play food, scolds it when it's bad, and makes it ride cars that are way to small for it. This, again, happened naturally, and the only thing that surprised me about it was the choice of doll.

Play Therapy

So why do I feel that it's important to allow this natural phase of development (and sometimes even do extra work to encourage it?) It gives him freedom to attempt to take control of situations and instill his perception of what "grown ups" do into his play. If he's learning to potty train, he can teach The Flash to potty train. If he's struggling with a cold, he can wipe The Flash's nose, as well. It helps him deal with all of the things going on in this 2-year-old world in a healthy way. It's play therapy, if you will.

Developing Empathy

Also, everything a child does is training for adulthood. Now, I don't mean that the hours spent playing with The Flash will translate directly into the way he'll care for a future offspring. (This isn't life skills class, is it?) I mean that he can practice having empathy in certain situations that will translate into real empathy later on. Asking The Flash "Are you okay" after a fall from the couch means he's verbalizing concern. This is concern that he will later verbalize to his siblings or his own kids.

Breaking Down Barriers

Guess who cared for our oldest son when he was a baby? It's wan't me. My husband was the one who diapered him, gave him my breast milk in bottles, and prepared all the meals. As we were both working full time, opposite shifts, it required that my husband cared for Micah during the days when I was at work and Micah was awake and most needy. I had Micah during the nights and a few short weekends. This worked for us, and we couldn't possibly subscribe to "gender roles" if we ever hoped to have a happy, healthy baby.

Allowing the boys to play with dolls helps instill that we are "OK" and even "delighted" to have mommies AND daddies do all of the care-giving tasks. Families require teamwork to succeed. There are no roles too small for everyone to participate in.

Do you let your children play with dolls? Do you encourage it? While I wouldn't force a kid to play with a baby, simply having one available in the toy box can result in a surprisingly fun day of play.  Here are the dolls I recommend if you don't already have one in the home:

1. Manhattan Toy Baby Stella - Perfect for babies and toddlers, this first baby doll is ultra soft, with embroidered facial features, toes and belly button. The cute tuft of hair and removeable clothing and diaper make it very interactive. We really love the magnetic dino pacifier! Comes in a boy or a girl design.

2. Gund My First Dolly - This doll is adorable and easy on the budget! Great for taking along on adventures and naps, it's squishy soft and machine washable.

3. Cabbage Patch Kids Naptime Babies - For all of you who loved the original Cabbage Patch, these naptime babies will bring nostalgia and friendship to your own child. Slightly smaller than the CPK, these dolls have a soft body and beautiful, big eyes! Adopt one today!

What kind of baby doll did you have growing up?