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11 Best Baby Dolls for Toddlers

Baby dolls are a classic toddler toy, and for good reason: They offer little ones companionship and comfort, along with a number of other socio-emotional developmental benefits that will stick with them for years—if not a lifetime—to come. Realistic baby dolls in particular “provide learning opportunities for toddlers to process situations they are experiencing every day,” says Cassidy Freitas, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego, California. Read more about the benefits of playing with dolls and what to look for when buying baby dolls for toddlers, and then shop our favorite picks.

Benefits of Baby Dolls for Toddlers

Dolls aren’t just cute—they’re super versatile toys that appeal to toddlers, preschoolers and older kids alike. “Baby dolls are an open-ended and simple toy that can be played with in a multitude of ways, with a wide range of ages and ability levels,” says Chelsea Swopes, MS CCC-SLP, a pediatric speech-language pathologist in Orange County, California. They’re fitting toys for children 1 year and up, since there aren’t any developmental prerequisites. Swopes reassures parents that “even in the simplest of play, a baby doll can be explored visually and tactilely by your toddler. You can use the baby doll to model simple actions in play like drink, eat or kiss, and then incorporate the baby doll into more complex pretend play actions as your child grows.”

Below are some of the most exciting benefits of baby doll play for toddlers:

  • Helps toddlers explore their emotions. Processing emotions isn’t something that comes easy to a toddler—in fact, it’s super challenging for a little one to experience big feelings and not know how to express them. But playing with a baby doll can help. “While a toddler isn’t necessarily going to communicate to you directly that they’re worried, frustrated, disappointed or trying to learn something,” Freitas says, they may use their doll as a conduit. Maybe they’ll have their doll act out what they’re struggling with, or perhaps they’ll have their doll ask for help or communicate what they want or don’t want. Baby dolls can help toddlers articulate their needs, even when language is still developing.
  • Promotes language and cognitive maturation. Baby dolls can be a great tool for language development. You can use a baby doll to help your toddler learn, say, the words for parts of the body and articles of clothing. While you’re sitting with your toddler and their baby doll, you can also model a simple action and offer some simple narration. For example, you can pretend to feed the baby doll and say “drink the bottle, baby!” Swopes explains this “can build understanding and eventually foster spontaneous use of verbs through play with baby dolls in a natural and meaningful way.” Even though your toddler will probably just mirror your actions in the beginning, that’s okay, because they’ll begin to associate certain actions and concepts with certain words. “They are building understanding first, which is so important—that verbalization will come,” says Swopes.
  • Builds self-esteem and confidence. Baby dolls can also be an excellent tool for helping prepare your kiddo for an upcoming experience that may be new and scary. Freitas recalls how having her kids’ baby dolls “take swim lessons” and get their hair brushed made her children feel a lot more comfortable when it was eventually their turn. Just recently, she helped her 4-year-old prep for his doctor’s visit by showing him, on the doll, how the pediatrician might examine his eyes, his ears, his throat—even where he might receive a shot. They brought her son’s baby doll to the appointment and the doctor performed a checkup on the doll before moving onto his buddy. “It was such a comfort for my son and completely helped him feel prepared and aware of what was happening,” Swopes says.

What to Look for When Buying Baby Dolls for Toddlers

There’s an infinite variety of baby dolls for toddlers, and as long as your kiddo loves the baby doll they have (and feels comfort and security when they need it most), you have nothing to worry about. But to help you scale down your search, be sure to keep these features in mind when shopping:

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  • Size and age ratings. Look for an appropriately sized doll that your toddler can easily maneuver and manipulate, Swopes says. Also pay attention to the manufacturer’s age recommendations, since certain dolls can be too advanced for young toddlers or have small accessories that could pose choking risks.
  • Softness and cuddle factor. Not all baby dolls for toddlers have to be soft, but stuffed cotton cuties and baby dolls with delicate, embroidered features make the best sleep companions. Plus, they’re often machine-washable (on gentle cycles), for when your kiddo carries their new BFF everywhere.
  • Multicultural representation. It’s important that toddlers have an opportunity to play with dolls that look like them, to foster a strong sense of self-worth. It’s also important for toddlers to play with multicultural dolls that celebrate diversity and encourage awareness and inclusivity. Look for baby dolls with various skin tones, facial features and hairstyles and those that are differently abled.
  • Accessories that support open-ended play. Swopes recommends baby dolls with no lights, sounds or interactive functions that may require batteries, to best inspire your child’s imagination. “The more a toy does, the less the child is required to do,” she explains. “Research studies in the area of early development have shown that electronic toys actually hinder pretend or imaginative play as well as verbalizations, shared connection and engagement.” Accessories aren’t necessary, Swopes says, but if they’re simple enough and can help foster the understanding, repetition and problem solving that comes with open-ended play (think: a bottle, bath, stroller or clothing), then they can be great learning tools.

Best Baby Dolls for Toddlers

Ready to find your child’s new baby bestie? Keep scrolling to see our favorite baby dolls for toddlers

Color-Changing Baby Doll

Adora Sun Smart Color-Changing Baby Doll & Doll Clothes Set

If you’ve got a toddler who hates putting on sunscreen (calling all toddler parents!), Adora’s brand-new Sun Smart Color-Changing Baby Doll is a bright idea. Ideal for toddlers who slip out of reach at the first glimpse of the sunscreen tube, this UV-activated baby doll will turn red if his fair baby skin isn’t slathered with SPF 30+ sunscreen. This way, you and your tot can practice putting sunscreen on the doll, as a way to prepare your toddler for what’s to come.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 10″ tall
  • For ages 1 year+
  • Compact size is super easy to hold and cuddle
  • Helps teach toddlers about sun safety
  • Removable dino-print rash guard top and printed swim trunks
  • Less realistic-looking than others on this list
  • Multicultural range needs to grow
  • Availability is limited since it’s brand new
  • Cassidy Freitas, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and mom of three with a private practice in California, where she offers virtual therapy to millennial parents. She hosts the top-rated parenting and mental health podcast, Holding Space. Her content focuses on destigmatizing difficult topics—like breaking generational cycles and the messy side of parenting little ones—with a gentle touch that leaves the viewer feeling less alone. Find her on Instagram at @drcassidy.
  • Chelsea Swopes, M.S. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom of two young children. She specializes in early language development. Through her instagram platform, @playtalklove, she provides support and practical strategies for parents of babies and toddlers as they navigate early milestones and parenthood.

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