The Sex Issue

Why Kids Like To Undress Their Dolls So Much, According To A Psychologist

Here's how to know when it’s common or a cause for concern.

Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Stocksy, Flickr, Shutterstock
The Sex Issue

If you’ve ever glanced over at the pile of naked Barbies in the playroom and wondered why on earth all those cute little outfits don’t manage to stay on the dolls they came with, you’re far from alone. Kids manage to make messes out of everything, but you might be curious if there’s some reason why your little one undresses their dolls all. the. time.

As Alyssa Roberts, psychologist and senior writer at Practical Psychology, tells Scary Mommy, there are a variety of reasons behind it, adding, “These reasons can be grouped into three main categories: exploration, imitation, and creativity.”

“First, kids may remove their dolls' clothing as a way of exploring the world around them,” she says. “Children are naturally curious and love to learn about the objects and people in their environment. By taking their dolls’ clothing off, they may be trying to understand how the clothing works, how it fits onto the doll, and how it can be removed. This type of exploration can also be a way for kids to practice their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.”

They might also be imitating the behavior they see from the adults around them. “Children are constantly observing and learning from the adults around them, and they may see adults taking off their own clothing or changing their dolls’ clothing and want to do the same,” says Roberts. “This type of imitation can also be a way for kids to practice and learn about social roles and norms, such as what types of clothing are appropriate for different occasions.”

Lastly, Roberts notes it might be a way for kids to “express their creativity and imaginative play.” She says, “Dolls and other toys can be a canvas for kids to create their own stories and scenarios, and changing their dolls’ clothing can be a way for kids to add detail and depth to these stories. For example, a child might change their doll’s clothing to match the setting of their imaginary play, such as putting a swimsuit on to ‘head to the beach.’”

Your individual kid’s personality might influence their behaviors as well — this includes their penchant for removing or getting rid of Barbie’s high-fashion looks. “Children’s behavior can also be influenced by their emotional state or relationships with others,” says Roberts. “A child who is feeling anxious or stressed may seek comfort by playing with their dolls, including changing their clothing. In contrast, social or more confident children may use their dolls to interact with others and tell stories.”

When does the naked Barbie phase usually begin?

Roberts notes that the doll phase typically begins around age 2 or 3. “As they become more comfortable with these toys and develop fine motor skills, they may begin to experiment with removing their dolls’ clothing and putting it back on.” She adds, “It’s worth noting that there is a wide range of normal development regarding children’s play. Children may begin undressing their dolls at different ages depending on their individual interests and abilities. Some children may show an interest in undressing their dolls as early as 18 months, while others may not display an interest until around 3 or 4 years old.”

“As children continue to grow and develop, their play will typically become more complex and nuanced,” she continues. “They may start to use their dolls and other toys to tell stories and create scenarios, and their play may become more imaginative and creative. Children may continue to undress their dolls as part of this play, or they may move on to other types of play as their interests and abilities change.”

And as with all things kid-related, there’s really no need to stress if your child follows a different timeline, says Roberts. “Parents should also be aware that there is no specific age at which children typically stop undressing their dolls. Children’s play and interests can change and evolve over time, and it’s normal for children to continue engaging in various types of play throughout their childhood and beyond.”

Is there anything parents should do?

Roberts emphasizes “approaching your child’s play with an open and non-judgmental attitude. Children’s play is a natural and important way for them to learn and make sense of the world around them, and it’s often through play that children can express their feelings, thoughts, and ideas.” Generally speaking, meeting them with support and encouragement is always a solid idea, and the same guidelines apply when it comes to doll play.

“Parents can offer age-appropriate explanations and guidance when necessary,” she says. “If a child is constantly taking their dolls’ clothing off and is showing an interest in how clothing works, a parent could explain how buttons, zippers, and snaps work and help the child practice using them.”

You can also tap into your kid’s natural creative drive by encouraging them to use their dolls and other toys to tell stories and create scenarios, says Roberts. “This can help children feel more invested in their play and give them a sense of purpose and direction.”

If you think you’ve got a budding fashion designer on your hands, Roberts recommends “providing them with a variety of clothing options or even helping the child create their own clothing for the dolls.”

Is there ever a cause for concern?

Though this behavior is incredibly common (and rarely cause for concern), Roberts notes it’s “important for parents to be aware of any potential underlying concerns or issues that might be influencing their child’s play. If a child is constantly undressing their dolls and showing an interest in their own body, a parent might want to consider whether the child is experiencing any kind of body image issues or has questions about their own anatomy. In these cases, it can be helpful for parents to have open and age-appropriate conversations with their child and to seek additional support or resources if needed.”

The TL;DR, per Roberts: Parents can breathe easily knowing that stripping their favorite dolls “is a normal and healthy part of their development, and there are many different ways that children can learn and grow through play,” she says. “By providing support, guidance, and resources, parents can help their children feel confident and supported in their play and encourage their learning and growth.”

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