Buying Gifts for Kids

Pink for girls, blue for boys. image courtesy

This is the second part of my parenting guide for non parents. In the first one I wrote about food. This one discusses purchasing gifts for kids not your own, especially if you don’t have kids yourself – written with the purpose of helping you select something that the kid will actually use.


I’ve always struggled with buying gifts for kids, especially before I became a mum. I was quite clueless about what constitutes a useful gift but wanted my money to be well spent. As with clothes most toys have the appropriate age group marked on the box. These age indicators are determined partly by whether a child will be physically/mentally developed to play with the toy and also partly by how much of a hazard the toy presents to the kid, e.g. choking hazard. They however do not provide any guidance on the quality of the gift for the relevant age group. In fact a toy manufacturer is not going to tell you that their toy offers no valuable entertainment/development skills to a kid.

So in my pre-motherhood days I made several faux pas. I took pink dresses for a four-year old niece who at that point refused to wear dresses or pink. For lack of any other ideas, I took an empty diary for a ten-year old. That gift was actually well received (unless the mother was just being kind), but in retrospect how lame was that! After I got married I was very happy to delegate most gift-buying for kids to my husband. The child in him is much more alive than in me and at least the gifts he bought were more fun than ones I’d have picked.

After becoming a mum, I received a lot of hand me down baby and toddler stuff and have attended a lot of nearly new sales. I can tell you that a third maybe even half of the gifts a kid gets do not get used more than once. I still find buying gifts stressful but I do now have some insight on what gifts will or won’t land up in that barely used pile.

Soft Toys – the average kid today has at least ten soft toys. My daughter has two bunnies, two ducks, four teddies, one dwarf, one mr. tickle, and several other random soft toys. They all sit in a hammock in her room. At my husband’s parent’s home she has eight more soft toys and then again a few more at my parent’s home. I’ve seldom seen a child spend hours with her soft toys. In most cases one toy becomes a favourite and that’s the one she takes with her everywhere and that’s the one parents buy duplicates of – for wash days and when the toy is lost. So I do not exaggerate when I say that of all the toys out there the most useless one to gift a child is a soft toy. The chance that your gift is used beyond the few minutes after you gave it to the kid is very low.

Soft Toy Hammock in my Daughter's Room

Soft Toy Hammock in my Daughter’s Room

Dolls fare a little better than soft toys. A child will probably play with the doll when she has a tea party. In addition a doll allows a child to grow her imagination. S/he feeds the doll imaginary food, tucks it into bed and pretend plays mummy or daddy with this doll. However I can guarantee that your doll will again be one of many, especially if the recipient of your gift is a girl. So if you’re giving a doll make sure it’s a very good one, so that the child will be ready to disown her current favourite doll for yours. Alternatively, if you don’t mind breaking social norms, gift a little girl a car or train and a little boy a doll. (You can use this article as a crutch to explain your unusual gift choice). Also for under-twos, who tend to put everything in their mouth, you should get dolls without hair. They’re not half as cute but are much safer – no choking and strangling hazard.

parentkidsreading 1

books – the safest exciting gift ever

Books – in my eyes books are the safest and one of the easiest gifts to give a child. Most parents work very hard to get their kids excited about reading. Bedtime stories are part of the sleep ritual in most homes. Even when that is not the case a book will be used for years. In the early years it will be used when the parents read to the child. As the child grows, she will then read the same books to herself. The only thing you as a buyer need to do is make sure you follow the target age group when you buy the books. For older kids err on the side of buying books that may be more advanced for the child than the other way around. This is because some kids are advanced readers.

Tactile toys – if you are like my husband who loves to read but considers books as boring gifts you may want to look at tactile toys. These are toys that force the kids to develop new skills. For a baby it may be wooden blocks or stacking toys. For a young toddler puzzles, lego or duplo sets, etc. work well. My personal favourites are magnet toys, but they tend to be a bit expensive. You can buy more complicated versions for each of these for older kids. Train sets can also be good gifts. Brio train sets are expensive but the best out there. So alternatively you can buy Bigjig Train Sets, which are cheaper. The tracks of the Bigjig train sets will fit into the Brio ones. Actually that is true for Thomas and Friends train sets too, as long as you purchase the WOODEN train sets. So you can spend less but still add to a kid’s existing train collection.

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image courtesy

You will notice that almost everything I’ve suggested is modular in nature. This means that parents can either purchase more in that toy group or your toy can add to an existing collection in that group. This reduces the likelihood that the kid already has the toy since there are so many modules out there.

A few other things that you may want to consider when buying gifts.

Space – if the kid lives in a tiny urban apartment think about space constraints. Toys that can be dismantled and thrown into a bag are easier to keep for longer when living in tight spaces.

Size – if you are not following the age guides provided on the toy boxes or no age guides are provided, consider the size of the parts before buying a toy. Small parts can be choking hazards for small kids who are always putting things in their mouths.

Paint – equally dangerous though less obvious is lead based paint used on children’s toys. This often is the case with unbranded toys purchased in countries where this is not very regulated. Young kids lick, bite and chew everything and these hazardous paints will get ingested. I have personally binned toys even before they reached my kid when I was doubtful about the paint used.

Gender Neutral – there is a new breed of parents that try very hard to raise their kids gender neutral. This means they don’t want their daughter’s toys to be dominated by dolls, kitchen sets, shades of pink etc. Likewise their sons will play with dolls, wear pink and have a few cooking toys. Blue for boys and pink for girls works, but is boringly old fashioned. Whether you buy into this philosophy or not, you may want to consider it in the type and colour of the gifts you select. If you have the courage break the norms, if not just opt for gender neutral stuff like red, yellow green and leggo, puzzles, etc.

Gift Receipt – finally if you can get one, attach a gift receipt. Parents very quickly learn to be thrifty. If we know a toy will not be enjoyed or is a duplicate of what our kid already has the gift receipt will at least ensure that your money is spent on something the kid actually wants/needs.

Note: I’ve not discussed clothing gifts because they merit their own post. If you like us on Facebook or Twitter you should get a notification when I write this bit or you can register with us (in the top right hand corner of this page) and you’ll receive a notification when we publish something new.

Also you’ll notice I’ve linked to Amazon when giving examples of toys. If you plan to purchase from Amazon, please use the links provided. The cost will remain the same for you but we will get a small portion of the revenue.


1. Parenting Guide for Non Parents – Food
2. Tips for Parents flying with Kids
3. iPad vs iDad

Have other gift tips, please share with us.

Visit the main EncycloKidia Website to find local services for your baby, toddler, or older kids.

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4 Responses to Buying Gifts for Kids

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