Here's the short answer first -- no, not all girl toddlers like dolls. There are exceptions to every sort of generalization like this. However, most girls do -- and so do most boys. In the latter case, however, they're sometimes called "action figures." In fact, playing with dolls or other mini representations of people, whatever they're labeled, is a recognized developmental stage for kids of all genders.
Gender and Play, Cause and Effect
Gender differences in play among young children is extremely fraught territory where it's best to tread wisely. An important element to keep in mind is that cause and effect is blurry and hard to sort out. Do girls gravitate toward dolls and dress-up because of some innate factor or because they get positive feedback from family and caregivers when they do? Same for boys -- do they like trucks and toolboxes because of brain chemistry or because when they pick up a doll, someone frowns and takes it away? There's also the effect of confirmation bias; that is, humans note data that fits their preconceived notions about how boys and girls play and ignore data that doesn't.
Playing with dolls helps both boy and girl children develop their fine motor skills as they dress and undress the dolls and manipulate their limbs. Doll play is also an opportunity to model social interactions and practice skills such as sharing and nurturing. Children can practice feeding and grooming skills on their dolls. Pretend play, of which dolls can be an important part, helps develop the imagination. And dolls also help enhance children's language ability, including words for parts of the body. There are other toys that can provide all these benefits, however, and dolls are not essential to acquiring any of these skills.
Gender Identity Issues
Some parents may worry that if their darling daughter doesn't want to play with dolls, this might mean that their daughter is having gender identity issues. First of all, you should know that Gender Identity Disorder is rare. Second of all, symptoms are far more pronounced than just a disinclination to play with traditionally girly stuff. To be diagnosed with GID, a girl must repeatedly insist that either she is a boy or wants to be a boy as well as show other symptoms such as a dislike of markedly feminine clothing and a preference for boy's clothes, an attempt to pee standing up or statements that she either wants or already has a penis or a strong desire to play with only boys.
Another worry might be that if your daughter doesn't want to play with dolls, it might be a symptom of some sort of developmental disorder. In this case, it's good to remember that the problem isn't playing or not playing with dolls, per se. If your daughter happily engages in other forms of pretend play, you have nothing to worry about. Lack of pretend play of any kind can be an early warning signal of an autism-spectrum disorder. These disorders are rarer in girls and also harder to diagnose in girls. Other warning signs are verbal delays or actual loss of language, a lack of eye contact with others, a disinterest in attention-getting games like peek-a-boo and a preference for repetitive play. Talk to your pediatrician if you're concerned.
If your toddler girl shows little interest in dolls but also no signs of GID or a developmental disorder, then relax. Give her some other toys to play with instead. Try teddy bears or other plush animals or perhaps puppets. Or, yes, action figures. Small plastic or wooden figures can work, too -- whatever inspires her imagination.
- The Children's Advocate: Dolls, Trucks and Identity
- North Shore Pediatric Therapy: Developmental Skills While Playing With Dolls
- Learning Toys: Benefits of Doll Play
- The Skeptic's Dictionary: Confirmation Bias
- The Archives of Sexual Behavior: The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Gender Identity Disorder in Children
- Child Talk: Red Flags for Autism in Toddlers
- Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images