Why dads and dolls hold the key to social learning post-lockdown
The ways in which children play has gone through a massive transformation in recent years. The rise in availability and accessibility of technology has resulted in children wanting gadgets at a younger and younger age.
Even in 2013, in an analysis of its sales figures, Littlewoods suggested that children were swapping traditional toys for tablets and games consoles as early as the age of seven. And it would be fair to assume that trend has only accelerated as technology becomes even more ingrained into our lives in the eight years since.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed society in ways we never imagined. As a society, we reconnected with what we used to hold so dear. And that includes more traditional hobbies, activities and toys like dolls.
Dolls in lockdown
While some parents bossed the homeschooling thing throughout lockdown, a lot struggled and so have their kids. Not every child responds well to structured learning outside of the classroom. And parents who are equally concerned about their child’s happiness and education, playtime became a superb alternative.
Toys and playtime have been utilised to enable learning in a fun and engaging way, stepping away from the kitchen table. A lot of this time has (understandably focused) on replacing academic development. But what about the rest of a child’s development?
Sociocultural theory argues that social interactions between children underpins their development. With schools closed for much of the various lockdown periods and restrictions preventing things like playdates, children missed out on important time with their friends. It’s understandable to worry that losing these interactions has restricted your child’s social development.
Some experts believe that the increased time spent with parents and the stronger bonds formed as a result will mitigate that loss, allowing the children to carry over the traits and attitudes they learn to their relationships with friends. So it’s not all doom and gloom in that sense.
However, it’s important not to overlook the role playtime can have in helping children to continue developing their social skills as we leave lockdown, particularly doll play.
Dolls are naturally associated with roleplay, with the children often taking on the roles of mums and dads, husbands and wives. According to a neurological study conducted by Cardiff University, playing with dolls activates the parts of the brain responsible for developing empathy, sympathy and other social information processing skills, even when playing on their own.
Based on this evidence, there is just cause to suggest that targeted doll play can have a positive effect on a child’s social development, even once lockdown restrictions are fully lifted.
Dolls and play - Breaking stereotypes
The debate surrounding gender stereotypes is far from a new one, especially when it comes to their influence and impact on children’s lives. But the issue goes far beyond how children grow to perceive the roles of men and women in the home and in society, and the career paths they may take.
A study by The Children’s Society found that gender stereotypes can have a profound impact on a child’s wellbeing. The study showed that kids who believe ‘being tough’ is an important trait for boys and those who believe ‘having good clothes’ is an important trait for girls are more likely to score lower on wellbeing assessments. Conversely, those who said the much more gender neutral trait of ‘working hard at school’ was important scored highest in wellbeing assessments.
Everyone knows that dolls are stereotypically associated with girls and the outdated view that women’s role is to take care of the home and family. However, when you combine the findings of The Children’s Society study with what we already know about the benefits of doll play, introducing dolls to boys from an early age can have a profound impact on their social wellbeing and development as they get older. If we start to do this now, this generation of young boys will grow up to be more empathetic, social and understanding than ever before.
It’s why brands like A Girl for All Time is breaking down barriers by creating modern, inclusive ranges of dolls. Its contemporary range of dolls include a boy, Max, and three of four are dolls of colour - helping children to see themselves represented in the toys they play with.
The role of dad
Dads are already at the forefront of one big stereotype change before and during lockdown, and it stretches way beyond wearing a baby carrier. According to DaddiLife’s Dads in Lockdown study, conducted during the first lockdown, dads became more involved in the day-to-day care of their children and running of the household than ever before.
Seven in 10 of the dads surveyed spent more time cleaning than before the pandemic, more than a third were doing more cooking, 51% were getting more involved in school work and around 45% were doing more of the bath and bedtime routines. However, the biggest change is in playtime. Eighty-three per cent of dads said they were spending more time playing with their children compared with pre-lockdown.
This extra time fathers are spending with their children not only has very real benefits to their development - several studies have shown that a more involved and engaged father results in better academic performance, greater confidence, better relationships in adulthood, less anxiety and stress and more - but provides a unique opportunity to accelerate the breakdown of gender stereotypes in toys and playtime.
Combined with the efforts to continue their kids’ learning and developments, dads are now playing an increasingly important role in social development. And dolls can play a big part in that for boys and girls.