The Best Baby Dolls for Toddlers to Build Social-Emotional Skills

These baby dolls offer comfort and companionship, helping your little one develop social and emotional skills along the way.
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Published March 16, 2023
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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

Cuddly Baby Doll

Olli Ella Daydream Dozy Dinkums - Moppet Ocean
Daydream Dozy Dinkums Moppet Ocean
Image: Maisonette

Designed to be cuddled from the very first days (with supervision, of course), this lightly weighted, 100 percent cotton baby doll is absolutely adorable. Its petite size (less than 13 inches) is perfect for little ones who’ve just started playing with baby dolls, and the super soft cotton form almost feels like a stuffed animal. Your toddler can play ’til their heart’s content, and then keep their partner—with its embroidered face and dozy eyes—nearby as naptime or bedtime closes in.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 12.6” tall and 3’’ wide at the belly
  • Weighs 4.8 ounces
  • For ages 0 months+
What We Love
  • Includes a 100 percent cotton drawstring bag that doubles as a laundry bag for gentle washes
  • Dozy Dinkums collection features dolls in an array of skin tones
Things To Consider
  • Pricey
  • May appeal more to younger toddlers

Twin Baby Dolls

Melissa & Doug Mine to Love Twins Tyler & Taylor Dolls

Have a set of toddlers at home? The Melissa & Doug Mine to Love Twins offer a double dose of cuteness. These perfectly sized babies are too precious, with their removable rompers and baby hats. If they start “crying,” your toddler can pop the dolls’ thumbs or included pacifiers into their open mouths, and when they gently lay the dolls down for a nap, they’ll see the dolls’ eyes close.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 15’’ tall and 13.4’’ wide
  • Weighs 3.2 pounds
  • For ages 18 months to 5 years
What We Love
  • Soft, huggable bodies make them perfect playtime and bedtime buddies
  • Easy to wipe clean
  • Tons of accessories to incorporate into imaginative play
Things To Consider
  • Dolls are a bit heavy, which can be tiring for smaller toddlers

Multicultural Baby Doll

Positively Perfect 14’’ Kiara Toddler Doll
Positively Perfect 14.5 inch Soft Body Toddler Kiara Multi Cultural and Ethnic Dolls
Image: Walmart

Positively Perfect Dolls are soft and huggable with an authentic variety of skin tones, hair styles and textures and physical features—so whether you’re looking for Black, Afro-Latina, Hispanic, Caucasian or mixed-race baby dolls, this is a great brand to turn to. The Kiara doll has a soft body, vinyl limbs, pierced ears and curly hair that kids can brush and even wash, inviting hours of endless styling fun.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 14.5" tall and 7” wide
  • Weighs 11.2 ounces
  • For ages 3 years+
What We Love
  • Hair can be washed, brushed and styled
  • Affordable
  • Black-owned brand
Things To Consider
  • May be a bit too bulky for a bedtime companion
  • Positively Perfect Doll range is mostly girls, with one toddler boy

Life-Like Baby Doll

American Girl Bitty Baby Doll
American Girl Bitty Baby
Image: Amazon

For toddlers, there’s something satisfying about holding a lightly weighted, life-like baby doll. American Girl, a household name in baby dolls for toddlers, gets it. Not only do their bitty baby dolls look realistic, but they come in several skin, hair and eye tones and in girl as well as boy versions, so they can look just like your little one. “Boys absolutely benefit from all the beautiful learning and connection opportunities that dolls provide,” Freitas says. “Empathy building, emotional expression, fine motor development, speech and language and exposure to caretaking are important for all children.” This baby doll has eyes that open and shut, a cuddly body and vinyl limbs, and an adorable and removable outfit.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 15” tall
  • Weighs 2 pounds
  • For ages 18 months+
What We Love
  • Life-like features
  • Removable clothes
  • A range of skin, hair and eye colors
Things To Consider
  • May be a tad heavy for young toddlers

Bath Time Baby Doll

Adora BathTime Baby Puggy Love
Bathtime Baby Puggy Love
Image: Maisonette

Have a toddler who hasn’t warmed up to the bath yet, or gets anxious about jumping in the pool? This Adora BathTime baby, with eyes that open and a cute hooded pug bathrobe, is extra special because it features soft, high-quality vinyl with an exclusive QuickDri body that's not only 100 percent machine-washable, but dries fast too—so baby can get out of the tub and back to play time in no time. And if your little fishy wants to bring their baby doll to the pool or splash pad come summer time, they absolutely can. Beneath the doll’s bathrobe is a paw-print swimsuit that we can totally see becoming part of an epic toddler-baby doll matching swimwear moment.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 13" tall
  • For ages 1 year+
What We Love
  • Features a fresh baby powder scent
  • BathTime collections include a variety of animal bathrobe-wearing wild ones
  • Versatile indoor and outdoor uses
Things To Consider
  • Drip-dry back neck tag might be confusing to your toddler
  • Pricey

Soft Body Baby Doll

JC Toys Lots to Cuddle Babies Soft Body Baby Doll

Nowadays, you can find baby dolls for toddlers in all shapes and sizes. Case in point: JC Toys’ undeniably squishable Lots to Cuddle babies. Beyond the thoughtfully life-like face, hands and feet, this unique baby doll has realistic wrinkles, dimples and rolls that are perfect for holding, hugging, nurturing and nuzzling. Plus, with the included bottle and pacifier, your little one can feed their baby and pop the binkie in to soothe their cries—a perfect way for tots to emulate their parents!
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 20’’ tall and 8” wide
  • Weighs 4 pounds
  • For ages 2 years+
What We Love
  • Extra soft body is ideal for cuddling
  • Can be easily spot-cleaned with soap and warm water (onesie and hat are machine-washable!)
  • Non-scented, BPA-free vinyl is safe and soft to the touch
Things To Consider
  • Since the doll is a bit more plush, separate clothes might not fit

Basket of Soft Multicultural Baby Dolls

Creative Minds Basket of Babies Plush Dolls

Why get just one baby doll when you can snag a whole basket of them? This set of six culturally and ethnically diverse plush dolls is a parent-favorite, with more than 4,000 five-star reviews on Amazon. They’re lightweight and oh-so-snuggly soft, making them the perfect travel companion. And while their itty bitty hats are permanent, they each have removable onesies, so kiddos can hone those fine motor skills while dressing and undressing their babies.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 10” tall; basket is 12” wide
  • Weighs 10.2 ounces
  • For ages 12 months+
What We Love
  • Perfectly sized for even the youngest of toddlers
  • Multiple multicultural dolls
Things To Consider
  • The hats don’t come off (to some toddlers’ frustration)
  • Some parents feel they’re overpriced

Baby Doll With Down Syndrome

miniland 15’’ Baby Doll Asian Boy With Down Syndrome
15 Baby Doll Asian Boy With Down Syndrome
Image: Maisonette

This brand is beloved for its multicultural and special-needs-centric dolls, and the fact that their baby dolls have anatomically correct body parts (including their genitalia)—refreshingly representative in every sense. This Asian baby doll with Down Syndrome is made of soft, flexible vinyl that’s perfect for hugging and gives off a light vanilla scent, and is a great choice for helping toddlers feel included and respected.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 15’’ tall and 7’’ wide
  • Weighs 1.3 pounds
  • For ages 3 years+
What We Love
  • Racial representation helps develop social skills like empathy and tolerance
  • Fully rotating head, arms and legs allow the doll to sit, stand or lie down
  • Doll is recyclable
Things To Consider
  • Anatomic correctness may be surprising for some toddlers at first
  • Clothing and accessories are particular to miniland

Personalized Baby Dolls

TinyToysBoutique Personalized Dolls
Personalized Dolls Rag Doll
Image: TinyTotsBoutiqueTM | Etsy

We couldn’t conclude a roundup of the best baby dolls for toddlers without a customizable option! We’re smitten with these soft baby dolls boasting ultra cuddly features and monogrammable flower dresses. You can choose between a vinyl or embroidered name application, the color of the monogram font and even the color of the doll’s hair and skin. And to top it all off, these pretty plushies are designed to be completely machine-washable.
Specs at a glance:

  • Measures 16’’ tall; arms and legs are about 4’’ in length
  • Weighs 8 ounces
  • For ages 1 year+
What We Love
  • Soft, cuddle-worthy design
  • Personalized embroidery in several playful colors
  • All dolls are handmade and then sent to a CPSC testing facility for safety
Things To Consider
  • Can get pricey the more you personalize

Baby Doll With Carrier

Götz Baby Doll & Carrier Bundle
PBK Baby Doll And Carrier Bundle
Image: Pottery Barn Kids

What better way for your toddler to play “make believe” than with a baby doll they can take around everywhere in their own baby carrier? This option from Götz is not only one of the most life-like baby dolls for toddlers, with its blushed cheeks, feathery eyelashes and eyes that open and close, but it’s also very simple. “The first pretend play skills a child exhibits are concrete, familiar moments that they themselves have already had experience with,” Swopes explains, so if they have a younger sibling who they’ve seen you carrying around in a baby carrier, they might want to try baby-wearing on for size! The baby doll is lightweight and the carrier sports padded shoulder and waist straps for cushiony comfort too, meaning your little one won’t be complaining about any aches and pains.
Specs at a glance:

  • Doll measures 16.5" tall; carrier measures 8.25" wide x 11" high
  • For 3+ years
What We Love
  • Baby doll’s arms move up and down
  • Diverse mix of boy and girl dolls, each with a distinct skin tone
  • Baby carrier has Velcro straps for easy adjustments
Things To Consider
  • Pricey
  • Availability is limited

Color-Changing Baby Doll

Adora Sun Smart Color-Changing Baby Doll & Doll Clothes Set
Adora Sun Smart Color Changing Baby Doll And Doll Clothes Set
Image: Adora
Buying Options
Adora | $34.99

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+
What We Love
  • 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
Things To Consider
  • Less realistic-looking than others on this list
  • Multicultural range needs to grow
  • Availability is limited since it’s brand new

About the experts:

  • 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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