“Boys aren’t supposed to cry.”
That’s what Laurel Wider’s 4-year-old son said one day, relaying the message he learned from his preschool teacher.
And Wider, a Jewish psychotherapist, was floored. Despite her best efforts — feelings were an important topic at home — she realized that the current societal climate simply did not support expressive male emotions.
“These rigid ideas of what it means to be a boy or a man are not only confining, but they create anxiety, depression, and a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t bode well with relationships,” she told Kveller.
But instead of posting an angry rant on social media, Wider went to work to help alleviate the problem. Toys, she knew, are educational tools; doll play is a resource for social and emotional skill building. But despite the abundance of stuffed animals and action figures, she couldn’t find anything with a human face that gave boys the green light to express their feelings.
“It really inspired me to think about what kind of hybrid we could create,” Wider said. “How can we find a common denominator that’s kind of familiar and merge that with opportunities to nurture?”
And thus, Wonder Crew was born — a doll line that combines the adventure of an action figure with the emotional connection of a favorite stuffed animal. The goal? To empower boys to be emotional.
Under the current political climate, Wider says a lot of parents are looking for answers on how to raise their daughters and sons to be their best selves. And while she’s seen a recent surge in toys aiming to expand the way girls play and envision their future, nothing was being done for boys.
“We often assume that boys have the upper hand, so we don’t really pay attention to them, but that’s not the case,” Wider said. “Boys are really struggling right now with feelings and self expression with connecting to others.”
Nearly four years after raising funds for Wonder Crew on Kickstarter, Wider made toy history by creating the first doll inspired by boys to take home the Doll of the Year Award at the New York Toy Fair. Currently, the line has four diverse dolls of varying skin tones, hair and eye colors. A new video shows young boys playing with their “buddies;” the hope is it will help encourage boys to have nurturing relationships.
“Combining a doll with superheroes and builders and explorers and really merging that empathy, that nurturing, that connection, with types of play like we’ve seen forever with boys has been so instrumental in Wonder Crew’s success,” Wider said. “Because why can’t a superhero also be a nurturer?”
Wider says she’s received tons of emails from both moms and dads thanking her, like, “I’ve never seen my son so bonded by a toy before,” or, “My son won’t go to sleep without his Wonder Crew buddy. Wider says the positive feedback has inspired her even more. “It’s amazing what happens when you just shift the language,” she said.
[Image via Wonder Crew Instagram]