Q: My 6-year-old daughter is really into dolls, especially the new, hip ones with contemporary outfits and accessories. Frankly, I find them...
Q: My 6-year-old daughter is really into dolls, especially the new, hip ones with contemporary outfits and accessories.
Frankly, I find them repulsive and a bit demeaning. Am I gauging these toys correctly, or do I just need to suck it up and allow her to have them?
A: If you find a certain toy, doll or game repulsive or demeaning, don’t buy it. Beginning at about 12 months of age, children reference their parents to see how they feel about objects, people and events. For many years, your child will look to you to accept or reject various influences and offer explanations with respect to your opinion.
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Research tells us that at 14 months, children in play groups and child-care centers begin to learn from peers; they also copy behaviors they see on video screens. However, just because peers and the media can influence young children doesn’t mean that parents must succumb to such pressures.
What you buy your children reflects your values. Let’s say you give in to pressure from marketers or peer pressure that “everyone else has one.” By doing so, you’re sending an unspoken, unintended message that you’ll buy whatever is advertised or if your friends have an item, I’ll buy you one, too.
Children use dolls as alter egos, playing out situations they don’t understand or trying out care-giving techniques they’ve experienced or witnessed.
A firstborn child with a baby sibling will play out family scenarios about being dethroned and adjusting to life with a loving intruder. A child struggling or adjusting to school will use dolls as students in order to come to terms with events, challenges and successes in the classroom. To adjust to the inevitable physical changes on the horizon, a child on the verge of puberty will play with dolls that look as if they’ve gone through puberty.
Your 6-year-old certainly is not about to start puberty. Therefore, it would be more appropriate for her to have a doll that looks like her. There are many dolls available that reflect more wholesome appearances than the ones you describe.
If you buy a doll that looks seductive or wears outfits that emulate popular entertainers, you’re offering tacit endorsement of their outfits and accessories. Some of these dolls wear clothes that don’t meet many parents’ standards for modesty.
If a relative buys your daughter one of these dolls, you can offer her messages such as:
• “The jeans on that doll don’t adequately cover up her bottom. It would not be OK to dress that way.”
• “That shirt does not cover your doll’s belly button. That’s OK at the beach in a two-piece bathing suit, but it’s not OK to wear that shirt at school, a party or when attending church.”
As your daughter grows up, there will be lots you can’t control about the influence of peers and the media. For now, you can control what doll you buy her. Your daughter may voice some disappointment if she receives a doll different than the one she’s wishing for. If so, you need to explain, “I know you’re disappointed. I understand. It’s simply not appropriate for you to own a doll that looks like a teenager.”
There is a tendency today for children to grow up too soon.It’s just fine to protect your daughter’s childhood by purchasing or sewing a doll that meets her at her developmental age.
Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists