Boys and Dolls

At what point in time did society start to dictate that only girls should be given a doll? Is it true that a child’s gender determines whether a doll could be loved, talked to and played with?

Perhaps there are boys who would not be interested in dolls but many many boys are-they are just not given the opportunity. A child can only play with the toys that they are given. If a boy is only given cars, then he plays with cars.

When my boys were younger I set up a beautiful play kitchen. The centre piece of the kitchen was a handmade wooden oven. My boys played with the kitchen, a lot, but it was interesting to see how they played with it.

They spent a long time building the kitchen...somewhere else. They would take all the mini kitchen items and play food and build a kitchen elsewhere, and usually in a terribly inconvenient place; the hallway, a door way, the kitchen. The wooden oven would sit abandoned. The building instinct seemed to be something they were impelled to do. They rarely cooked or ‘played house’ in the traditional sense. This different way of imaginative play is no better or worse than what I had imagined they should do with a kitchen. They created their beautiful world of play.

The way they play with dolls is similar. It may not meet my expectation but the dolls are played with and well and truly loved. ” Girls and boys differ in the way that they play, and this becomes more distinct as they grow older...As they reach three or four years old...a girl tends to enjoy playing mummy with her baby while a boy needs a doll that provides him with an opportunity to pour out his feelings to another, who understands and feels, unconditionally, all that he feels. “ (from Creative Play with your Toddler). From my observations of boys with dolls, the doll is less of a ‘baby’ and more of a friend. The dolls come along with them on adventures.

My son’s doll sits next to him while he plays a game of cards. I’ve even walked in on the pair playing UNO together. This is not through a lack of play mates, he has two brothers , but a genuine bonding with a doll. He was given him at Christmas time after his 4th birthday. Perhaps if I had given him the doll at another age he may not have taken to him with such passion. He called him ‘Lucky’ and put him on the back of his bike and took him for a ride.

He sleeps with Lucky every night, but he doesn’t dress and undress him like I thought he might. He doesn’t carry him around or nurse him like a baby. He is a friend. Children process the world through their play so I imagine if I had a baby and he watched me feed and change him perhaps Lucky would be played with differently. “The special relationship between a child and her doll is dynamic, and often mysterious, as relationships are. It is about love and nurturing, friendship and ownership, the emergence of the self and the subtle expression of all that the child imbibes from the adults who surround her.” (from Making Waldorf Dolls- Maricristin Sealey” The author of the quote above has used the pronoun ‘her’ but it could easily be changed to the opposite gender. It is equally applicable to both boys and girls. The kindergarten teacher remarked at our school, after one class with a large amount of boys who liked to bring their dolls to class, what a wonderful group of fathers they will make. It is something to love about these boys, who at 6 years old, were in no way embarrassed or inhibited in showing their love for their dolls. Dolls bring out a nurturing, caring instinct in a boy, one that is not necessarily brought out with trucks and blocks. Please don’t get me wrong. I believe you should honour a boy’s building instinct with blocks and most boys go through a car phase. No, I’m just saying that a doll can bring out qualities in a boy that are often suppressed.

There is no right or wrong when buying a doll for a child but many people opt for a doll made with the image of the child in mind. The doll often becomes like an alter ego for the child, so often people will buy or make a doll with the same colouring, or hair colour as the child. There is no hard and fast rule that a boy should only be given a boy doll but through my own observations of my child and my friend’s children, boy dolls are the favourite companions of boys. “The favourite doll can become like an alter ego for the child, invested with a bit of the child’s own emerging sense of self’ (From ‘You are Your Child’s First Teacher’ by Rahima Baldwin Dancy.)

The way a boy is given a doll can also dictate how he plays with the doll and how the relationship between the boy and the doll develops. Love the doll like the child does! Greet the doll in the morning, kiss goodnight to the doll as you tuck them both into bed at night, have a picnic and cake for the doll’s ‘birthday’. All this actions nurture the child’s imagination and also respects the child’s play. The doll is worthy and should be treated with care and respect. The boy will naturally do the same. Dragonflytoys have a lovely range of boy dolls made by Tibetan refugees living in exile. They are handcrafted and follow the waldorf tradition of doll making.

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