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Boy and Girl Playing

Balancing play for growing minds

November 22, 2013

There’s an unfortunate tendency to think that only girls are harmed by the gender stereotyping of toys.

So, it is easy for people to see how a girl may be deprived if she isn’t allowed to play with Lego or building blocks but difficult to see how a boy may be deprived if he isn’t allowed to play with dolls.  However, the idea that gender stereotyping of toys only harms girls just isn’t true.

[su_pullquote class=”mobile”]sociodramatic pretend play—social role playing with complex storylines— is vital for building emotional understanding[/su_pullquote]In fact, the idea is really a form of hidden sexism—stereotypical ‘girl’s’ play must be unimportant because girls don’t do important things.

Recent research suggests that pretend play, particularly sociodramatic pretend play—social role playing with complex storylines— is vital for building emotional understanding, emotional expression and emotional regulation and this may be particularly true for boys (Lindsey & Colwell, 2013).

Of course, there are many ways that sociodramatic pretend play may happen and children may participate in such play without any toys at all.  However stereotypical ‘girl’s’ toys—baby dolls, doll houses, tea sets, kitchen sets—are often ideal for eliciting this kind of play.

If you take the time to watch pre-schoolers playing with dolls or playing house you’ll notice them practicing many emotional and social skills like:

  • Emotional understanding
  • Emotional expression
  • Emotional regulation
  • Perspective taking
  • Conflict resolution
  • Empathy

These skills are vital in adulthood to:  establishing and maintaining long-term friendships and romantic relationships, navigating the often complex politics of the workplace, being an effective parent and being an informed and responsible citizen.

They are important skills and they are skills for everybody.


Lindsey, E.W. & Colwell, M.J. (2013).  Pretend and physical play: links to preschooler’s affective social competence.  Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 59 (3), 330-360.

Post By Dr Koa Whittingham (2 Posts)

Dr Koa Whittingham is a psychologist specialising in clinical and developmental psychology, a research fellow at the University of Queensland and a mother. Her research interests include parenting, neurodevelopmental disabilities and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/mindfulness. Koa regularly blogs about parenting on her blog Parenting from the Heart:

Website: → Kate Wittingham's Blog


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