Puppet play and empathy
Children have played with dolls since time immemorial and it is not so strange because the doll represents man and enables the child to understand himself and his surroundings.
When children play with dolls, they relive and rehearse the important events they have witnessed. Perhaps the child goes through the bedtime routine where the doll gets to change clothes and brush its teeth. Perhaps the child repeats the visit to the BVC where the child invents different tasks that the doll can perform. It is through this type of free play and repetition that creativity is stimulated and everyday events are processed. Doll play is therefore an important arena that allows the child to create meaning and bring order to chaos.
Four tips on the benefits of puppetry
Doll play allows the child to develop social skills such as empathy. By playing with dolls, children can understand other people's points of view, this helps the child become better at cooperating and creating good relationships.
Doll play with dolls of different skin colors normalizes the concept that people come in different colors. That everyone is different but equally valuable. It helps the child identify with the doll and create an emotional connection.
Doll play allows the child to build a fantasy world and a story. My almost 4-year-old usually talks to himself when he plays with the dolls, he gets a moment where language development, imagination and creativity are stimulated at the same time.
By practicing social skills, the child also learns to take responsibility. The child's play may be about taking care of the doll's baby, here the child practices taking responsibility and initiative, a game where the child builds self-confidence.
In a study carried out in 2020, they wanted to understand how the brain reacts to playing with dolls. They therefore let 42 4-8 year olds play freely with dolls or iPads, with a friend or alone. They then compared the brain activity between the two different games. The results showed that playing with dolls activates the empathy part of the brain both when playing with a friend or alone. However, it was seen that the empathy area was least active when children played alone with an iPad. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2020.560176
Three suggestions for games that we usually play with dolls:
Free play - Pick up dolls and props and take a step back. Let the children decide and let the play develop organically.
In between - Set up a world or scenario with puppets and props and then let the children explore the world freely.
Role play - Here it is more controlled than with the two previous proposals. Here you can use the doll for communication between children and adults. We usually cover topics that are relevant to the child. Right now it's a lot about the concept of waiting your turn, helping out, not taking toys from your brother without asking first, etc. Using the doll as a mediator where the child can express his feelings and gain a better understanding of different points of view of a scenario has proven to be very effective for us.
If you look up the word empathy, you get the following: "Empathy (search for love) denotes the ability to experience and understand the feelings of other sentient individuals." It is thus one of the most important qualities that we can encourage in our children.