Emily Oster

2 min Read Emily Oster

Emily Oster

Do Baby Dolls Help Prepare Toddlers for New Siblings?

Q&A on family dynamics

Emily Oster

2 min Read

We are expecting our second child in late November, when our son will be almost 2 years old. I’ve heard it’s beneficial to give older siblings baby dolls to play with (and that it’s generally a good idea for toddlers to have baby dolls). My husband thinks it’s creepy. Is there any data on the topic?

—Sarah

Doll data is limited, although this is an old and popular idea for parents worried about their child’s reaction to a new baby. In principle, the doll might do two things. It might help your child get used to the idea of a sibling and it might help you predict how they are likely to react to their sibling. 

On the second point, though, data is not on your side. The (one) helpful study there is looked at how children reacted to a doll prior to the birth of a sibling and then, once the sibling was born, looked at how children reacted to their siblings. The doll reaction was completely non-predictive of the sibling interaction. 

baby playing with a doll
Karolina Kaboompics / Pexels

This study didn’t look at whether giving a child a doll helped them prepare for a sibling, but in general there is very little one can actually do to prepare a child for the change associated with having another person around. Most kids test boundaries at least somewhat when a new baby arrives, especially those who are too young to really understand the context.  

Bottom line: There is nothing wrong with dolls! My house is full of them, although over time most have had their hair cut or filled with slime, and some of their eyes are painted shut. But they aren’t the key to teaching your child to deal with a sibling. Which, reflecting on the last two sentences, is maybe a good thing. 

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Nifer
Nifer
21 days ago

An anecdote for you—my second son is now 9 weeks old, and my older son is 22 months. Since we brought the new baby home, we’ve been using a baby doll to practice “gentle” touches with our toddler to help facilitate safe interactions. As Emily points out, sometimes the ticket still chews on the doll’s head when he gets excited, which isn’t a *great* signal. But it has helped us to have a practice baby—and if the real baby wasn’t 6 weeks premature, I would have liked to have practiced those interactions and vocabulary with our toddler even before the baby came home. It’s like reading books about the doctor before going to a checkup, it just helped make it not the first time he was introduced to certain actions and concepts.

Nifer
Nifer
21 days ago
Reply to  Nifer
21 days ago

“Toddler” not “ticket”. Please excuse speech to text typos, this was drafted while breastfeeding lol. And we definitely referred to the doll as a doll or baby doll, not as a baby itself.

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It has been a busy summer for the team at ParentData. I’d love to take a moment here to celebrate the 400k milestone. As I’ve said before, it’s more important than ever to put good data in the hands of parents.

Share this post with a friend who could use a little more data, and a little less parenting overwhelm.

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Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

#parentdata #parentdatapodcast #parentingpodcast #parentingtips #emilyoster

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Comment “Link” to subscribe to ParentData with Emily Oster, joined by some excellent guests.

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#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray

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Prevention is key! I suggest:
⭐ Regular tick checks
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Some parents worry about DEET, but repellants with up to 30% DEET are recommended by both the CDC and AAP. The data says you’re in the clear, so go for it. Enjoy your summer!

#parentdata #emilyoster #tickseason #bugbites #bugspray
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