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Young boy holding a baby doll

Dolls: Not Just for Girls Anymore

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This question came from a local dad right after the holidays.

"My 4-year-old son likes to play with dolls. My wife says it’s perfectly okay and will help him be a better big brother, friend, and father someday. My own father, his grandfather, was here for Christmas and gave me a hard time about it. I'm guessing it's okay for boys to play with dolls, but how do I help my dad understand?"

Dear reader:

Thank you for your question!

It is more than okay for your son to play with dolls. There are a lot of benefits that can be gained from pretend play. Your son is developing social skills, caretaking abilities, and empathy, all while participating in an activity that makes him happy. While there are certainly benefits for boys playing with dolls, this does not mean that everyone will be on board. Some people might have a hard time getting over the gender roles that have long existed for boys and girls. They simply don’t agree with boys participating in activities that have been historically associated with girls, and vice versa.

If this were a stranger off the street that held this opinion, it could be easy to dismiss, but it becomes more challenging when it is a family member, especially a parent. Our parents may be convinced that the way they raised us is the best, and they might have a hard time adjusting to changing their long-held beliefs. You might hear, “I never let you play with dolls and you turned out okay.”

This challenge isn’t exclusive to gender roles. In the Fatherhood 101 class that I facilitate, we talk about the changes in dynamics between new dads and family members. Some new grandparents may give feedback or advice about the parenting choices you are making. Some are more vocal with criticism and some more helpful.

There isn’t always a clear-cut answer on how to handle this situation, but here are a few suggestions.

Provide evidence

There is a lot of accessible research and data that supports boys playing with dolls or other “girl” toys. There is also information about the harm that strict gender roles have on the social-emotional development of children. If your father is the type to be swayed by facts and evidence, it might be helpful to bring up some of these points in your next discussion and possibly dispel any myths.

Share your feelings

Our feelings can get hurt when others question our parenting choices. Letting that person know how you feel can be the first step to them learning to respond to you differently. Simply saying, “Hey dad, I don’t like it when you say these things about my son playing with dolls,” is a good way to assert yourself and stand by your own beliefs. Your loved ones should be willing to do or say things differently in an effort to keep you from feeling hurt.

Agree to Disagree

Sometimes, there’s just no winning. Continued disagreements can lead to arguments and tension within the family structure. If you feel that you and your father may not agree on this subject, it might be best to just agree to disagree. This means that both sides will not make an effort to influence the other. So, your father will hopefully refrain from making further comments about your son’s choice to play with dolls, even if it is something he’s against.

I hope this was helpful. Please comment below with your thoughts. If you have any questions about fatherhood that you would like for me to answer, you can e-mail me at

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About Z. Andrew Jatau, LPC

About Z. Andrew  Jatau, LPC

Z. Andrew Jatau is a Licensed Professional Counselor and content creator currently working at Hopscotch, a leading pediatric behavioral health company.  He is the founder and CEO of Mylemarks, a website dedicated to providing engaging social-emotional resources for children and adolescents.  Andrew has worked in a number of settings providing mental health services to youth and families, including a day treatment center, a university counseling center, and most recently, a private practice in Virginia Beach.  He previously served as a Fatherhood Consultant with CHKD, helping to organize and facilitate fatherhood programs in the Hampton Roads area.  Andrew resides in Aurora, CO with his wife and two daughters.