Barbie fever: The role of doll play in child development

Can playing with a Barbie doll be good for child development or not? If you're a worried parent, read on to know the benefits of doll play for your little one!
Barbie can help with child development
Barbie can help with child development. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Team Health Shots Published: 31 Jul 2023, 01:15 pm IST
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There are some things about childhood that never change. The fascinations for toys and dolls is one. Even as children today have a lot of digital innovations pulling them away from social interaction, indulging in role play is one way to help them develop social skills. Barbie, the world-famous doll, has found herself in the spotlight thanks to the eponymous live-action Hollywood film. Various studies in the past have looked into the negative effects of playing with Barbie doll on the self-esteem of children. However, one cannot negate the role of role play for a positive impact on child development.

During its inception in the late 1950s, the Barbie doll drew ire for promoting unrealistic beauty standards among children. But over the years, its diverse and inclusive avatars (Barbie with Down Syndrome) are a statement in itself. According to early years educator Rachna Narwekar, also a coach for children with learning disabilities, role play or dramatic is an essential learning tool for a child’s overall development.

What are the benefits of doll play?

1. Role play helps a child develop social skills

One of the most essential skills a child can develop in early childhood is social skills. This is the ability to interact and communicate with others effectively. Play teaches children how to be empathetic, wait their turns and adapt to various situations. It also helps shy children to move out of their comfort zone and express themselves freely.

Barbie Doll with Down Syndrome
Over the years, Barbie doll has embraced diversity and inclusivity. Image courtesy: Instagram | Ellie Goldstein

2. Playing with toys teaches life skills

When children play with toys, they learn to take care of them. Bathing a doll, setting up the clothes or a kitchen scene helps children develop much-needed life skills. Play in early years helps children understand the value of owning a toy and the fact that they are responsible for keeping it in good condition.

3. Boosts imagination

A team of Cardiff University researchers, who have studied the brains of children who played with a Barbie doll, observed parts of the brain associated with social information processing to be active. This was even true in case of solo doll play.

Playing with dolls and their accessories encourages children to think about others and they learn to interact appropriately. Using the various props that come with the doll, children assign different roles for each other and create various scenes to enact.

4. Improves confidence

Through role play, children can assume different roles and get the opportunity to become whoever they want to be at that moment. It helps them engage creatively with their friends and peers. Dramatic play creates an atmosphere of imagination and curiosity. The more situations the child creates during playtime, the more confidence she will get to explore and enact different characters.

Also read: Ruth Handler: The Creator of Barbie who empowered breast cancer survivors with prosthetic breasts

Barbie dolls
Barbie dolls have been a part of children’s lives since 1959. Image courtesy: Mattel

5. Vocabulary building

Before a child can learn to read they need to have a sound understanding of words and what they mean. Children can expand their vocabulary thanks to the numerous accessories involved in dramatic play. From making a pretend breakfast to setting up a veterinarian clinic children learn how to use the tools provided and communicate effectively.

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6. Increases concentration

The tiny accessories that accompany a Barbie doll require concentration and precision to put together. It also helps improve eye-hand coordination, an essential needed to perform various everyday tasks.

7. Develops motor skills

The various accessories and dresses a Barbie doll comes with help improve fine motor skills in a child. From fixing a kitchen set to setting up the tiny pieces in a doll house, all of these give enough hand and finger muscles the exercise needed.

8. Enhances communication

Children learn to communicate effectively and problem-solve through play. They learn to share with their friends not just the physical toy, but their ideas and feelings too. Whether it is organising a tea party or a pretend visit to the doctor, play enhances communication.

A note for parents on role play for children

Rachna Narwekar says whether at home, in a classroom or other places, adults can make a positive impact on children’s lives in many ways. “The experiences we create for our children will help shape the people they become tomorrow,” says the educator. So, make sure you choose the experiences and toys for your children accordingly.

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