Gifts Not to Get For Other People's Children (Namely Mine)
I've been reading up on some of the lists that other websites have put up around this season about what not to get for kids, and I've got to tell you, I'm a little appalled. Most of these lists contain things that aren't unpractical to get and kinda of petty to complain about. One of the lists contained crocheted blankets as a no-no gift. Are you kidding!? The time it takes to make one of those, plus its uniqueness, and it is so thoughtful, it should be treasured. Even if it's a weird color, or a little scratchy. A crocheted blanket is something you show your child when they are old enough to understand that it was was made by so-and-so especially for them. All weird stuff aside, any time someone gets a gift for your child you should be grateful, and teach your kids to be grateful too. There is NOTHING worse than spending money and effort on a gift and have it not be appreciated by some brat kid and then have them not be called out on their manners by their parent. My kids know... whether they are opening up a gift box full of candy or socks, they say an enthusiastic "thank you" or bad things happen to them.
That being said, many of my childless friends and family, or people who are parents, but are still kinda clueless, are always asking me what to get my kids. I direct them to my kids' amazon.com lists. This is hands down, the easiest mode of conveying what your children desire. This is a good way to make sure that your kids don't have duplicate items so you're not left with the headache of returning things. Also, it gives other people some insight as to what your kids are into these days so you don't have to run around telling everyone that your kid isn't into aliens anymore, they like pirates. But what about the people who aren't good at ordering online, or who would rather not? Those are the people who need a list of what not to get.
As with any toy you get for a child, always make sure the toy is not on the unsafe list: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/category/toy.htmlMake sure it looks durable and not super cheap. Really really cheap toys, made in other countries, probably contain lead. Those toys are certainly unsafe, but here are some that are detrimental, unnecessary, or otherwise annoying:
Playdough is an important toy for kids to have. It inspires creativity, and works the muscles in their hands. But kids only need to have a couple of tubs of the stuff. This is a toy known for being a go-to for kids you have no idea what to get for. Meaning their stockpile grows exponentially. The more playdough a kid has, the more expendable it becomes, leading to you on your hands an knees pulling playdough out of the carpet or stepping on a dried piece of playdough in your bare feet. Not fun. Best leave this toy up to the parents to buy. Also, forget about buying accessories for playdough too, because they never work and are impossible to clean.
The last thing you want is to buy a toy for a kid that the parent NEVER lets them play with. If you're buying something that launches projectiles or squirts things, if it's winter, the kid won't be able to play with it at all, unless shooting or squirting things inside the house is ok, which it is probably not. Also, those kinds of toys have age recommendations that buyers rarely pay attention to. Nerf guns that require bullets get lost almost immediately and unless you've also bought a replacement pack, the kid will be devastated when all the bullets are gone.
Decorative Items (for bedrooms)
Unless you know the kids' room very well, it's best not to give them something decorative because it might not go with their theme. Or, there may be plans in the making to change a theme (kids are fickle) so the nice Noah's Ark theme in the 5 year old's room could be changing to dinosaurs next month.
My Jayden LOVES his legos, so I specifically don't have a problem with them as presents in my house, but I've listened to my parent friends talk about them as if they would rather welcome the plague into their houses. I can see their point. Unless you are mentally prepared for legos, legos are a problem. When we were kids, we were given a basic lego brick collection, green building board, and a pamphlet with a few building suggestions. Today, there are lego sets featuring licensed characters, that have very many and specific, intricate directions, which come with very many and tiny pieces which will undoubtably get lost and sucked up into the vacuum. But without that tiny piece the whole damn thing can't be built, so it gets thrown in a closet to be loathed, then forgotten about. Also, have you ever stepped on a lego piece barefoot? It inspires instant rage at the child who carelessly left it on the floor and for the asshole adult who bought it for them. Not that the buyer is really an asshole, but at that moment, while pain shoots up your leg and your hopping on one foot, that adult is surely the biggest asshole you know. Ask first before you buy legos.
You never know what sounds bother another person, but in this case it might not just be the parent that has a problem with the noise it might be the child. A few years back Walmart was selling these car toys that flashed lights and made car sounds. They were relatively inexpensive but cool looking, so Jayden was gifted like three of them. However, they were so loud that even Jayden didn't want to play with them. Later I looked online at an unsafe toy list and they were on it for their decibel level. So beyond being super annoying they weren't good for kids either. Besides the aggravation factor, you need to consider everyone in the house. If there is a baby in the house, or toddler that needs uninterrupted sleep, getting a loud toy for an older sibling is just going to cause problems. Also, toys that have too much going on in terms of sounds and sights, can confuse younger children and make it hard for them to focus. Test the toy out yourself. Could YOU live with hearing it for 15 minutes at a time? If not, put it back.
With the exception of babies, who don't have many options when it comes to playthings, stuffed animals will be loved for precisely 5 minutes before they get tossed aside and forgotten to live in the stuffed animal hammock or Ikea contraption to collect dust and mites with the dozens of other stuffed animals (que sad Toy Story 2 music). By the time a child can talk they've already established their favorite stuffed animal, and there's not much else you can do to change their mind. Both of my kids' favorite stuffed animals (the one they cannot sleep without) were gifted to them at their baby showers. Nothing you can buy them will compare to Kitty and Bear. So no stuffed animals. Also, they're a fire hazard.
Age Inappropriate Toys
There is a real reason why toys have age recommendations, not just to make younger kids wish they were older. Some toys come with small parts and the board who certifies these toys have come to the conclusion that a child x age has the ability to swallow a part, whereas a child y age cannot. Then there are developmental reasons for age recommendations, younger children do not have the brain capacity or focus yet to attend to certain activities, and buying them something too advanced for them can spark frustration and low self confidence. I have to remind myself this all the time. The Easy Bake Oven made a big comeback this year and I had all I could do to not buy it for my two year old... because that would not have been appropriate, or safe. On the flip side, make sure you're not getting something for a child that is below their age recommendation either. When Jayden was three someone bought him a foot push bike designed for a one year old. He was heartbroken because he really wanted to ride on it, but he was too big.
I'm not even going to explain this one. If you buy this for my kid, you're dead to me. Other parents, am I right or am I right?
I believe those are the worst of the worst. But here are a few that you might want to get, but proceed with caution.
Unless you have a kid that is super into fashion, your clothing gift will probably bum them out, but hopefully they are still gracious about it because lots of parents would rather you get the kids clothes anyway. But you need to get the right ones! So a clothing gift should only be purchased after a conversation with one of the parents. This is for a few important reasons: (1) Just because the child is 3 years old, doesn't necessarily mean they take a 3T in clothing. Some kids are bigger or smaller than their age/clothing category. If the kid is too small, it's not usually a huge problem as they will eventually grow into it, but if it's a seasonal item, they might not get to ever wear it at all. Now, if the kid is bigger, a clothing gift that is too small can be embarrassing for them. So call first. (2) You migh make a sweater purchase, but the child might already have a whole drawer full of sweaters, when all they really need is a pair of jeans (isn't ironic, don't ya think). (3) It might not be the taste of the child, or parent. In my house, I avoid t-shirts with licensed product or logos emblazoned across the middle. I just think that things like that are distracting and I'm of the mind set of "if you want my kid to promote your product by wearing it on their body, you should pay them." Also, stuff like that really messes up potentially amazing pictures. I love taking pictures of my kids on a whim, when I'm out somewhere and the scenery is perfect. I don't need Dora the Explorer ruining my picture of Laney in a patch of lilies. So you should ask first. Some parents don't really want to put their little girl in pink frilly things, or their boy in certain colors with certain animal characters. Clothing is tricky, unless you don't care if it winds up in the yardsale box in the attic.
These things are hard to buy because unless you know exactly what the child already has, you run the risk of getting them something they already have. There's nothing worse than identical action figures. Plus action figures are only popular in a child's life for a short period of time. Children move on from them so quickly, they usually end up in the yardsale box after a while. A better bet is to get something that doesn't go out of style. Jayden loves pirates, but instead of getting him a ton of Pirates of the Caribbean crap, we get him pirates that aren't tied to a label. That way they don't fall out of favor and it inspires more creativity; where if the toys were already tied to a story line, there is less spontaneity. Imaginext and Playmobil have really cool themed playsets, try those instead.
So in this country anyway, we just don't get dolls for boys. Although, Jayden's kindergarten teacher told me a secret: of the many play stations in her classroom the House was the most popular and boys went for the baby dolls as much if not more than the girls. I'm not sure why we don't want to foster nurturing in our boys, but until things change, it's best not to buy a doll for a boy unless it has been previously discussed with the parent or child. On the other side of that... I don't necessarily like getting baby dolls for girls either. Rag dolls are ok because they are more of a friend, but when it comes to babies... I think we're just sending the wrong message. Laney has one baby doll that she takes care of. I neither encourage nor discourage this because although I like to see her nurturing, I'd rather see her building things out of blocks and exploring her environment. I see little girls having this crazy baby obsession that just grows and grows over time until it's hard to concentrate on anything else as young women. Although as far as toys go, over the last 15 years, it looks as though baby dolls have taken a backseat for cooler high school age dolls. Also in the last 15 years, more girls than ever before are going to college. Coincidence? That may be a stretch, but it's something to think about.
Just because you adored Barbies, doesn't mean your neighbor will adore you for getting one for her daughter. For many parents, they are a hot button issue right up there with violent toys targeted specifically at boys. Now Barbie has gotten herself a bad reputation over the years for being a materialistic lookist who spends entirely way too much time at the beach, sending the wrong message to young girls. Some of that maybe true, look at her poor boyfriend, Ken is more like a eunuch possession of hers. But she has toned down her flashy body and blinged out wardrobe. And on the positive side, she has a job, a car, and a home; all without having to be married. So Barbie is a toy best left to a parent to buy. As for violent toys, I know many parents who've banned all guns and swords. Just like baby dolls can create baby obsessions in girls that can later be a distraction, violent toys have the same effect on the boys we buy them for. And they are on the rise! Walk down a boy aisle in the toy store and almost every toy battles another toy in some way. Even the marbles! You've seen the Zhu-Zhu pets, right? Those little motorized hamsters. For girls, they come with mazes and dress up, for boys they come with arenas and battle gear. It's so silly. Leave the war mongering toys for the Axis Powers.
Now I'm not gonna tell you what not to buy and then not leave you with any suggestions, that's just mean. Here are some sure bets:
Arts and Crafts Materials
These work for both boys and girls. The less messy the better. Please no crappy Rose Art crayons. Make sure on the box somewhere it says "washable" and "non-toxic."
Dressing up like and pretending to be an astronaut is infinitely cooler than playing with an action figure. Not to mention it requires way more creativity, and it gets them up and moving.
You can't have too many frisbees.
Experiences Over Material Things
My favorite! Taking kids out and entertaining them is fun for them and fun for parents, and doesn't come in obnoxious packaging. We live close to Boston so we have The Museum of Science, The New England Aquarium, and the Boston Children's Museum all within driving distance. We love exploring the museums, any time we get tickets we go. When people give monetary gifts to the kids, we take some of that and put it towards a yearly membership. If you have a lot of money to spend on a child, you can get them a membership to a place nearby you think they'll love, or if you don't have as much to spend, a gift certificate for a day's admission will do as well. It's even more special if you plan to take the kids, yourself, to this fun place. Use your imagination when scoping out places, you could take them strawberry picking in the summer, whale watching, skiing. You can take them to a ball game or to a place where they can paint plaster items. And if you don't have any money to spend at all, you can write them out "coupons" just to hang out with them (just make sure you actually do it!) Kids are so overwhelmed by toys during the holidays and their birthdays they might (and should) welcome some one on one attention from another grown up over another toy to toss into the heap. What kid doesn't want to build blanket forts, or bake cookies together?
If all else fails there are always gift cards. Please don't give my children a box full of candy, please.