Everyman’s guide to buying presents for toddlers

cubes

Mr. Toddler’s birthday is approaching, which makes me think of presents. Most people (mistakenly) presume that they don’t need any guidance with these, but believe me, they do, especially if they don’t have toddlers at home or have forgotten what it’s like to have them. Read on and you’ll have to admit that I’m right.

Mum knows best

If you want to make a present that will be appreciated, ask the parents: after all, it’s the child you want to surprise and not his mum. Nobody knows that kid better than his own mother, so go on and ask her and she’ll be happy to tell you all about Junior’s favourites of the moment. If she says silly things like “it’s not the present that matters”, insist: she’s only trying to be polite. If she cannot give you an exact answer (like “that-and-that doll house” or “such-and-such LEGO set”), ask her about her kid’s favourite toys, cartoon characters, colours and clothes size. Tell her what toy you’re thinking about to check if the kid already has one. Ask her if she’d rather prefer a book, a set of clothes or sports equipment. If you are close friends, you can also ask her if there’s anything she’d buy if it weren’t too expensive and offer to share the bill.

If for some reason you cannot ask the kid’s parents, you can use these simple tips:

1. Go for the basics: they are entertaining and having doubles is an advantage, rather than a problem. Building blocks, LEGOs, lightweight balls (keep that signature soccer ball for when the kid grows up and learns not to throw it in the direction of the new TV-set), bathtub buddies, colouring pencils or crayons (PENCILS AND CRAYONS, people, NOT paint or markers, even if it’s written “washable” on them!), soft toys, picture books…

2. Buy age-appropriate toys. Would YOU like to receive a toy that you won’t be able to play with at once? I guess not…

3. Don’t buy cheap, “use-and-throw” stuff. The world is cluttered enough, and imagine the disappointment of the child whose toy breaks two days (or two minutes!) after he receives it. A good toy is the one that lasts until the kid outgrows it, and it doesn’t necessarily cost a fortune.

4. Don’t buy really expensive stuff. The toddler won’t know the difference but the parents will, and might feel embarrassed.

5. Don’t buy toys that make noise. Even the most pleasant melody can become annoying if played a hundred times in a row. And that’s exactly what kids do: play it again and again (and again), until their parents’ brains explode. So, for Heaven’s sake, don’t!

6. I don’t really have to say it, but just in case: don’t buy toys that can hurt the child (or the parents, or anyone else). Your nephew might be dreaming about a toy sword but let his parents decide if he’s going to have one. Because if he pokes out somebody’s eye, you don’t want to be the one feeling guilty, do you?

7. Don’t give money, gift cheques or other non-material presents unless previously agreed with the kid’s parents. First, because they won’t make the kid happy: a toddler needs a present that he can hold immediately, not a promise of a present. Second, because it means making the kid’s parents do the job: drive to the store, choose the present…

8. Don’t expect the kid to like your present at once. Children are unpredictable and there’s nothing you can do about it. Sometimes it’s love at first sight, and sometimes they need time and encouragement to get attached to the new toy. Sometimes they simply don’t know how to play with it or they can even be scared by its appearance or the sounds it makes…

In a perfect world people should get prepared for birthdays well in advance but in real life you sometimes have to deal with the present issue half an hour before the birthday party starts… How to avoid the infamous last-minute throw-it-all-in-and-let’s-hope-it’ll-do presents? Instead of grabbing whatever toy they have at your closest 24/7, get creative:

– buy a dozen bottles of soap bubbles: they will keep everyone busy (so will sidewalk chalks but you should check the weather first: some retrograde parents don’t like graffiti inside the house);

– buy lots of stickers: yes, stickers are super trash but kids happen to adore them. Add something to stick them on (e.g. postcards, a notebook), or else the stickers will end up EVERYWHERE and you will never be invited to that house again…

– buy a pack of paper and stage a paper plane contest (you can decorate them with the stickers from the previous tip)…

– sacrifice your “adult” time and offer to entertain the kids (if you can keep the kids occupied for as long as a quarter of an hour, the grateful parents will erect a statue in your effigy). Read them a story, host a jumping contest or a kid yoga class – whatever you can do to keep the kids busy within the legal boundaries, will be welcome with a unanimous “hurray!” and you will become the favourite aunt or uncle – forever!

Finding the right present for a toddler is an art of its own and you might need a little exercise before you become an expert, but don’t give up: you’re already on the road to perfection!

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