Here’s Why Your Kid Takes Their Dolls’ Clothes Off, According To Experts

At any given point in my house, there are about a dozen dolls — and all in various stages of undress. Even though we bought them fully clothed, sometime after the unboxing all the dolls suddenly were stripped naked sans for maybe a shoe or an earring. So why do kids want dolls with all the accessories and pretty clothes, and then wind up removing all their attire? Here’s why your kid takes their dolls’ clothes off.

When you wonder why all of the Barbies are butt naked, it kind of makes sense. After all, have you ever met a toddler who loved wearing clothing? Probably not. “There are all kinds of reasons why a child might be tempted to take clothes off of their dolls,” says Katie Lear, LPC, RPT, RDT, a children’s therapist in Davidson, North Carolina. But if you’re concerned that your child’s desire to have unclothed dolls lying around is wrong, don’t pay it too much mind. “If a parent’s main concern is that a child taking the clothes off the doll is somehow inappropriate, that doesn’t have to be a worry,” she says.

So if you’re trying to understand why your kid takes their dolls’ clothes off, read on to see why maybe it’s best to leave them just as they are instead.

They’re Curious

Children are incredibly curious by nature, both about their bodies and the world around them. “Young children are often at an age where they’re just starting to learn about bodies, body parts, and differences between genders,” explains Lear. So you can use this as a learning opportunity to explain about “boy parts and girl parts” without emphasizing too much about gender stereotypes.

They’re Mastering New Skills

More often than not, when children begin undressing dolls, it’s also at the same stage when they’re learning how to dress themselves. And as such, stripping a Barbie doll is more about mastering motor skills than anything else. “When kids are learning how to get dressed and undressed independently, it makes sense they’d want to practice this skill through play,” says Lear. And once they’ve mastered the skill (such as buttoning or unbuttoning) they might want to repeat it — again and again.

They Feel Empowered

Sure, play might be the primary way that kids explore the world around them, but there’s a certain sense of empowerment by being able to get dressed and undressed. “It may be empowering, especially for children yet unable to take their own clothes off, either because of dexterity or because of parental taboos,” says Natalie Mica, MED, LPC, CART, CDWF , a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX. “It does not mean that a child is doing something inappropriate, or has witnessed inappropriate behavior from someone else,” adds Lear. “Unless a child is acting out something explicit or showing other worrisome behaviors, undressing dolls is not cause for concern — it’s just a typical phase for most kids.”

They’re Learning Cause And Effect

Kids are big into cause and effect (i.e. “If I do this, then this happens.”) “Taking doll clothing off is a great way for kids to learn about cause and effect,” says Lear. So even though it might mean having itty bitty doll clothes everywhere you look, your child is actually learning an important life skill.

They’re Being Creative

Although the doll might be dressed in one way, to a child, to a child, that look just might not be doing it. Being able to change up an outfit is allowing your child to show off her creativity. So get down on the floor and help her style her sweet doll so that it reflects her own personal fashion choices. Then, take it one step further and allow your mini fashionista have some input into her own outfits. She’ll be the most stylish kid at preschool.

They Can’t Redress The Doll

Even if seeing all those naked dolls and loose accessories brings out your OCD, try to be patient. For some kids, it’s a whole lot easier to undress the doll rather than putting her pants back on again. “Children often lack the small motor skills required to redress their dolls,” says Mica. “Many will tire of the effort, get distracted, or simply not try to put the clothes back on.” So instead of getting frustrated, help your child learn how to slip on a shoe or get the doll’s arms through the shirt sleeves, and your dolls should be dressed again in no time.

Sometimes, you just can’t explain why your kid takes their dolls’ clothes off. But like most things in childhood, our kiddo will eventually outgrow this phase and their dolls will be dressed once again.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock
  1. At their request, I have redressed my granddaughters’ Barbies hundreds of times, just to have them promptly undress them again. Thanks for providing the answer to my silent question, “Why do they KEEP DOING THIS?!?”

  2. But what if it is a second grade neighbor boy who comes over and always wants to take off the dolls clothes and my girls are 4 &6. I am in the room when they play always, but I feel like this makes me not trust him. I usually stop him after he takes the clothes off of 2 of them, but should I not be so strict?

    1. As a parent myself, I would suggest speaking with the boy’s parents and let them know your concerns (but without being accusatory). What is he doing after he undresses the dolls and how is he playing with them once they’re not wearing clothes? That could give you an idea of what his motivations are. It might be natural curiosity, but I totally agree that this would make me uncomfortable, too, especially around younger daughters. If anything, maybe you can encourage that they play with other toys and keep the dolls away when he comes over.

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