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If you walk down a toy store aisle today, you might be tempted to ask what year it is, because some stores still insist on labeling their aisles “boy toys” and “girl toys” (just like some grandparents insist your daughter would really like a miniature vacuum cleaner for her birthday while your son needs a train set). But guess what: Kids don’t care about gender stereotypes! And if they do, it’s because they have learned to — from us or from someone around them. If a toy is fun, they play with it; if it’s not fun, they make it fun using their imagination. After all, kids are the very best version of humans.
My son likes to play with robots, Legos, cuddly stuffed animals and dolls. We have a play kitchen and a train table, plus dolls galore. And guess what? When given the chance, most boys will play with dolls. And this type of play reaps huge emotional benefits. Dr. Lindsay Henderson, a psychologist who treats patients virtually via telehealth app LiveHealth Online, says boys can actually improve their emotional literacy and practice real-life skills by picking up a doll.
“By playing with dolls, children are exploring and developing skills related to caretaking, nurturing, and even parenthood,” she tells SheKnows. Boys may pretend to be a dad when they nurture a plastic baby doll, but even if their imaginative games have little to do with parenting roles, the type of play associated with dolls is beneficial to all children’s growth and development. “The long-term benefits of playing with dolls are not restricted to future parenthood; empathy, responsiveness, love, and caretaking can be applied to any relationship or interaction throughout life,” says Henderson.
The fact that empathy can be developed is a cold, hard neurological fact, according to a small study conducted in 2021 by Barbie-maker Mattel and Cardiff University. The research, which included 33 children, showed that even when kids were playing with dolls solo, the area of their brain that is responsible for empathy was activated. It also showed that dolls are instrumental in helping children develop empathy.
“As leaders in the dolls category, we’ve always known that doll play has a positive impact on kids, but up until now, we have not had neuroscientific data that demonstrates these benefits,” Lisa McKnight, SVP and Global Head of Barbie and Dolls, Mattel, said. “The findings of this research highlights that playing with dolls, such as Barbie, offers positive benefits in preparing children for the future through nurturing social skills like empathy. As we continue to inspire the limitless potential in every child, we are proud to offer dolls that encourage skills we know are highly valued by parents and are determinants in children’s future emotional, academic, and social success.”
And boys need to develop empathy, too. Not sure where to start when it comes to buying a doll for a boy? This list, which includes racially diverse and body-positive buddies, will help. And your little guy will love them.
Cabbage Patch Kids 14″ Skateboard Boy Blonde Hair Blue Eyes
Cabbage Patch Kids dolls are a fantastic 1980s throwback that appeal to kids today, even boys. The line offers a huge variety, from the traditional yarn-hair designs to twins and kids with glasses or other accessories. Each one is packaged along with their special adoption certificate.
Cabbage Patch Kids 14$29.99Buy now
For the Dog Lover
Your little one can channel his inner-dog trainer with this cute playset. It comes with a fanny-pack wearing Ken, a labrador, a chihuahua, a balance bar, a hopp and a trophy, of course.
Ken Dog Trainer Playset with Doll$22.99on Amazon.comBuy now
Sebastian & Sophia twins
It’s double the cuddles! Beloved kids’ Brands Melissa & Doug have done it again with the adorable Sebastian and Sophia twins, a brother-sister duo suited for boys 18 months and up. They can be dressed up, loved on and given their pacifier, and the cuddly little newborns can even have bath time — well, sort of. They can be wiped clean easily though, helping your child connect with the importance of hygiene.
Melissa & Doug Mine to Love – Sebastian & Sofia Twins$44.99Buy now
Our Generation Jackson doll
Dress up time is in full effect with this cool dude: Jackson, from the Our Generation line, Is decked out all sporty in joggers, a sweatshirt and a cap, and his clothes can be easily changed out for a different mood. his brown eyes open and close, making him one of the more realistic looking dolls on our list.
Our Generation Jackson$25.99Buy now
Ken Soccer Player Doll
With Ken such a major player in our current Barbie-obsessed world, it makes sense that he gets a makeover now and then. This doll can be purchased as an athlete, a barista (male bun included), a lifeguard. He’s more than “Kenough”!
Ken Soccer Player Doll$20.19on Amazon.comBuy now
Truly Me Doll #77
Despite the name, any child can happily play with an American Girl doll. They are definitely not cheap, but they are the sort of high-quality item a child might treasure into adulthood. The Truly Me doll comes with a blue-and-gray collared shirt emblazoned with the American Girl logo, a pair of blue jeans, boy briefs, and sneakers.
Truly Me Doll #77$115Buy now
HABA Snug Up Soft Doll Mason
HABA Snug up Jonas doll is perfect for babies (as young as six months) to clutch for comfort. They won’t lose the clothes because they’re sewn on and the doll is machine-washable.
HABA Snug Up Soft Doll Mason$19.99Buy now
Madame Alexander doll
This Madame Alexander doll was designed to look and feel realistic, right down to his molded legs, arms and head and his sparkling blue eyes. He comes with all the fun accessories too, like a blanket and bottle, and he even has an adoption certificate for your child to fill out, sparking his imagination.
Madame Alexander 18$31.99Buy now
Wonder Crew was developed by Laurel Wider, a psychotherapist who understands how important it is for boys to practice their emotional literacy.
These dolls come dressed as superheroes and feature a kid-size cape and mask. They’re also available in different ethnicities and come with accessories like a construction worker outfit and pajamas.
Wonder Crew Superhero Buddy – Will$14.95 (originally $24.99)Buy now
Playskool Dressy Kids Boy Activity Plush Stuffed Doll
This doll, an Amazon Exclusive for kids ages 2 and older, helps kids practice getting ready for school by showing how to zip, button, and fasten clothing. Aside from polishing their motor skills, kids will have fun experimenting with this squeezable toy.
Playskool Dressy Kids Boy Activity Plush Stuffed Doll$22.90on Amazon.comBuy now
Give your kid the perfect doll to cuddle up with in Jules, an inhabitant of the mythical Hazel Village, a land where dolls and animals coexist joyfully. The doll, safe for kids three and up, is handcrafted of soft cotton by atisans in Nepal, where the labor practices are Fare Trade Certified.
Hazel Village Jules Doll$56Buy now
Baby Born Doll
You child can practice his nurturing skills with this 14” adorable baby boy that allows kids to feed him a bottle using real water, bathe him, and change his diaper. The doll’s body is also flexible and his eyes can close making for a more life-like experience.
BABY born Lil' Boy – Blue Eyes$31.99Buy now
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