What are Worry Dolls?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Worry dolls, often called Guatemalan worry dolls, are small dolls that are used at night to soothe a person's fears and worries, usually those of a child, so that he or she can sleep restfully. These dolls are believed to date back to Mayan traditions. The colorful dolls, which typically are 1 inch (2.54 cm) or less in length, usually come in a set of six or more in a box or bag. A small piece of wood is used for each doll's body, and it is dressed in remnants or scraps of clothing. They generally are very inexpensive and can be found in some specialty stores, ordered over the Internet or made at home.

A worry doll with colorful skirt.
A worry doll with colorful skirt.

How the Dolls are Used

In Guatemalan tradition, a person uses a set of dolls each night by telling one of the dolls a worry, which effectively passes on that concern to the doll. The person then puts the doll under his or her pillow before going to sleep. A different doll in the set can be told another worry the next night, and that doll also is placed under the person's pillow. Sets can even be shared among family members, such as in a family with several children.

Worry dolls might help a person dealing with insomnia.
Worry dolls might help a person dealing with insomnia.

These dolls are seen as a way to help anxious kids voice their worries, which might help promote better sleep. Some parents will remove the doll during the night, symbolizing that the concern is gone. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the child won't have that worry again, and experts caution parents that a child’s strong anxieties should not be minimized. Parents who want a child to keep dealing with a particular anxiety might skip the removal process and let the child know that the doll is getting rid of the worry so that he or she can get a good night’s sleep.

Children suffering from severe anxiety may not benefit from the use of worry dolls.
Children suffering from severe anxiety may not benefit from the use of worry dolls.

Psychologically Sound

From a psychological standpoint, using worry dolls is quite sound. Intention, faith and belief can all play a role in a young person’s ability to shed anxiety, especially when it is mild or moderate. Severe anxiety might not be well addressed by the dolls because it might be of chemical origin and therefore require psychiatric treatment. For children who have normal, occasional worries, however, a doll might give them more restful nights.

Making Dolls at Home

Making worry dolls does not require a person to be artistic. Wooden, knobbed clothespins can be used to make larger dolls and are a great craft to do with a child. Pieces of cloth can be glued onto the clothespin, and a the child can draw a small face on it. More elaborate dolls also can be made, of course, but regardless of the craftsmanship of a homemade doll, a child who is involved in the process might feel even more connected to it, which can help in its intended purpose of removing the child's worries.

Parents with an anxious child may use a worry doll to help their child get a good night's sleep.
Parents with an anxious child may use a worry doll to help their child get a good night's sleep.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I had my worry doll for a while. Whenever I told her my worries everything was fine, but the days I did not talk to her and I had her on the top sheet of my pillow, I had very awful nightmares. My pets actually avoided it. It really creeped me out so I burned her. Now I feel like I have bad luck.


They are said to be bad luck if you get someone else's doll.


I remember having these when I was little. I used them only one night. My sister had some as well. All I remember was that my stepmom was very mad and she took them away from us, claiming it was voodoo or some witchy tale.


I researched this post after three separate family members had nightmares from the worry dolls we were given. My daughter had used them when she was younger and there were no issues. But the new ones were used once, i.e., given some simple worries, and she had a terrible nightmare. She did not put them under her pillow again.

I said I would experiment with them and I put them under my pillow. Yes, I had a nightmare but I forgot to remove them from my pillow. The next night my son got into my bed and he immediately had a bad dream. I then had another. Interestingly, our dreams were of similar concepts.


Has anyone heard of worry dolls bringing bad luck? This has happened to a friend of mine on at least three different occasions when the dolls were given as a gift. Now another present has arrived. Is there a way to dispose of the dolls without transferring the negative energy?


@googie98: Traditionally, you “give” the doll your worries. When you lie down in the bed, remove your trouble dolls from the box and place them in the palm of your hand. They should have their own box or pouch to be kept in. Pick one of them up and assign it your worries. Then, place that doll back in its box. If you have another worry, you can do the same for the other doll(s).

After you are done and your dolls are back in their box or pouch, place the box on your nightstand or somewhere close to you. You can even place it under your pillow. Legend is, that while you sleep, your worries will be taken care of by the worry dolls.


How exactly do you use these dolls? Do you just stick it in the bed with the child?

Post your comments
Forgot password?