Why it is so important to me for my own boys to play with dolls…
I don’t really talk much about my past or upbringing online as I usually like to stick to business but I guess the truth is there is no way of getting away from this one as my past kind of reflects exactly why I decided to make a go of RagHeroes.
For those of you who don’t know, I grew up and spent nearly all of my life living in Sunderland, in the North East, before moving to Whitley Bay, still in the North East, around 5 years ago. I only moved as my husband is from Newcastle and refused point blank to come to Sunderland!lol
For those of you who don’t know much about Sunderland, it is a very working class place with a history rooted in mining and ship building. The men up here, as lovely as they are, in my opinion are not very good at showing their feelings and think it makes them look ‘soft’ to do so. Of course, this is not all men but true for most that I personally know.
Before becoming self-employed I spent over 15 years working as a counsellor and youth worker in various locations around the North East. One of the main issues we came across when working with young men was their inability to process their feelings and this was then projected as anger, which was often due to sheer frustration as they didn’t know how to show people how they felt. Myself, and many of my colleagues spent hours of time working with young men, showing them how to challenge this and how to articulate what was going on for them internally, and, low and behold, their anger issues gradually resolved as they became able and confident to express themselves. I also worked as a counsellor in a primary school with children from 5 years of age. In this environment it was clear to see the same patterns of using anger to deal with emotions as it was when working with teenagers and young adults we counselled. However, it was much easier to work with a 5 year old as their patterns of behaviour were not so embedded in them as they were in the older lads. In the play therapy room it was fascinating to see how role play helped little boys to play out and externalise what was going on for them and to bypass the need to use anger as a tool to express themselves. We often found that their attitude at home and their work at school improved as did their relationships with parents.
However, it was important to keep talking to parents too, explaining how it was due to showing little boys other ways of expressing themselves other than anger, and showing some parents how the use of toys could be used to do this. We spent sessions with parents showing them how to facilitate play and how to encourage their children to talk with them. What we always found in the play room were that the little boys would gravitate quite quickly to the toy figures, including dolls and would always pick up the feeding bottles and changing equipment and look after them. As a counsellor I saw this as the boys externalising how they wanted to be treated and looked after and was almost like a kind of self-care and self-healing process. They were able to speak though the doll and we were able to guide them and encourage them to get their feelings out by caring for the figures and the dolls. It was very emotional stuff!
However, amazing as all this is, and in my quest to promote the use of dolls in little boys play time, I’m by no means suggesting your child has ‘emotional issues’ or needs to be in therapy. I simply have seen first-hand how playing with toys such as dolls can encourage children to express themselves and aid their emotional and intellectual development. I’ve also seen this as a Mam with my own two boys, who are now 2 and 4 years old. I watch as they pick their dolls up, put them to bed, put nappies on them and generally care for them as they would for a baby! What I also noticed is that they play so well together with their doll’s, they make ‘ssshhhhh’ noises and are generally soft in their play and nicer with each other, as they suggest ways of making dolly happier and more comfortable, etc. They don’t do this with any of their others toys, such as their Spiderman figures, they just get thrown off the walls and their play is very much individual. I think this latter way of playing is important too but I do think there should be more of a balance.
Since I launched RagHeroes I’ve had quite a few people challenge me about dolls for boys, usually men, although some women too, saying how they think they will make boys, ‘soft, ‘wimpy’ and even ‘gay’! Whenever I have asked them on what these reactions are based, they do not seem able to answer this other than to say that well ‘dolls are for little girls’. To be honest, I was prepared for this, as I think this is what most of the men around me as I have grown up would say too, but I didn’t expect it to have such an impact. I think the awareness Ragheroes is raising is great as it has taken me on a new path to challenging the belief held by many that boys should not play with dolls and to seek to actively promote this.
What I can see quite clearly is playing with dolls brings my two sons closer together, and helps their caring side to develop. This is why I want my boys to have access to dolls they can play with as I want them to grow up into men who can form close relationships with others, including other men, and be able to express their feelings and emotions and develop into the caring men that they are capable of being. Of course too, I hope this will help them in their relationships with their own children, should they have any, and give them the resources they need to deal with life in a fulfilling way.
As always, I am very keen to hear any thoughts you may have on this post.