The Best Baby Dolls for Toddlers to Build Social-Emotional Skills
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.
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 one 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.
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:
- 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.
Ready to find your child’s new baby bestie? Check out these soft, huggable options, suitable for one-year-old tots.
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.
Age rating: 0 months+ | Height: 12.6" | Weight: 6.4 oz.
- 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
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.
Age rating: 12 months+ | Height: 10" | Weight: 10.2 oz.
- Perfectly sized for even the youngest of toddlers
- Multiple multicultural dolls
- The hats don’t come off (to some toddlers’ frustration)
- Some parents feel they’re overpriced
We couldn’t have 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.
Age rating: 1 year+ | Height: 16" | Weight: 8 oz.
- Soft, cuddle-worthy design
- Personalized embroidery in several playful colors
- Handmade, but safety-tested
- Can get pricey the more you personalize
The Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy takes baby dolls to the next level. The soft doll comes with a handful of accessories—including a magnetic bottle and pacifier, stuffed bear and storybook—to encourage pretend play in your toddler. Then, when it comes time for naps or nighttime sleep, this doll pulls double duty. Its entirely plush design and petite size (under 12 inches) makes it the perfect cuddle partner—and this baby doll releases the soothing scent of lavender when hugged to help promote sleep in your little one.
Age Rating: 1 year+ | Height: 11.5" | Weight: 1.1 lbs.
- Available in peach, beige and brown skin tones
- Life-like features, including baby toes and a belly button
- Scent might not be appealing to all
When it comes to a soft, plush baby doll, the Baby Starters My First Baby Doll can’t be beat. It features a completely soft design, with no harsh edges or hard surfaces (even the eyes and nose are embroidered)—avoiding any potential boo-boos during playtime. Plus, this sweet and snuggly doll is the perfect compact size: At just 10 inches tall, your one-year-old will easily be able to tote this baby doll anywhere their toddler heart desires.
Age Rating: N/A | Height: 10.2" | Weight: 3.2 oz.
- Built-in rattle
- Smaller size may not appeal to older children
A 2-year-old will be able to handle a doll with a little more heft and interactivity. These dolls are perfect for a growing toddler.
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.
Age rating: 18 months+ | Height: 15" | Weight: 2 lbs.
- Comes with a board book and stuffed bear
- Removable clothes
- Range of skin, hair and eye colors
- May be a tad heavy for young toddlers
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.
Age rating: 1 year+ | Height: 13" | Weight: N/A
- Features a fresh baby powder scent
- Versatile indoor and outdoor uses
- Drip-dry back neck tag
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!
Age rating: 2 years+ | Height: 17" | Weight: 1.5 lbs.
- Extra soft body is ideal for cuddling
- Can be easily spot-cleaned
- BPA-free vinyl
- Separate clothes might not fit
If you’ve got a toddler who hates putting on sunscreen (calling all toddler parents!), Adora’s 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.
Age Rating: 1 year+ | Height: 10" | Weight: N/A
- 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
If you have a toddler who loves to snuggle as much as they love to play, this soft baby doll will be their new best friend. It comes with a full baby outfit, complete with easy-to-manipulate Velcro closures, for your little one to perfect dressing and undressing (and work on their fine motor skills in the process). But when play-time is over and it’s time for a nap, this baby doll makes an ideal cuddling companion, thanks to their plush fill and cotton jersey fabric.
Age rating: 2 years+ | Height: 17" | Weight: 12 oz.
- Soft and cozy design
- Available in diverse options
- They can only be spot-cleaned
The baby dolls from Leyadolls aren’t just fun play toys—they are quality keepsake items that you’ll want to hold on to long-term. Made from eco-friendly materials, these plush baby dolls are available in a variety of styles (from princesses to ballerinas and more) and ethnicities, allowing you to choose a baby doll that closely resembles your child and their interests. Plus, every doll can be personalized with your child’s name—at no extra charge—for an added special touch.
Age rating: N/A | Height: 16.5" | Weight: 8 oz.
- Multiple ethnicities, skin tones, hair colors and styles
- Personalized at no additional charge
Three-year-olds are beginning to get the hang of physical tasks and language skills. Which means they’re ready for some serious make-believe play, and these dolls are just what the doctor ordered.
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.
Age rating: 18 months+ | Height: 15" | Weight: 3.2 lbs.
- Soft, huggable bodies
- Easy to wipe clean
- Tons of accessories
- Dolls are a bit heavy
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.
Age Rating: 3 years+ | Height: 14.5" | Weight: 11.2 oz.
- Hair can be washed, brushed and styled
- Black-owned brand
- May be a bit too bulky for bedtime
- Dolls are mostly girls, with one toddler boy
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.
Age Rating: 3 years+ | Height: 15" | Weight: 1.3 lbs.
- Racial representation helps develop social skills like empathy and tolerance
- Fully rotating head, arms and legs
- Doll is recyclable
- Anatomic correctness may be surprising for some toddlers at first
- Clothing and accessories are particular to miniland
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.
Age rating: 3 years+ | Height: 16.5" | Weight: N/A
- 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
- Availability is limited
To decide which baby dolls are the best for toddlers of all ages, we did the bulk of research for you—leveraging our familiarity with leading toy brands to make sure the dolls are from reliable manufacturers, reading user reviews to get the lowdown on how these dolls work for families and relying on our own experiences as parents. We also evaluated the baby dolls’ materials, design, features, price and, last but certainly not least, safety, to make sure we were highlighting quality products that would both stand the test of time—and provide the best bang for your buck.
To make sure we selected baby dolls that were both safe and age-appropriate, we also spoke with two early childhood experts to understand key developmental priorities and safety considerations to keep top of mind.
Interested in learning more about our editorial process? Read about how our team develops and reviews all articles here.
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, MS, 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.
Navigate forward to interact with the calendar and select a date. Press the question mark key to get the keyboard shortcuts for changing dates.