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Five Things to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Kids

It’s so much fun to shop for kids! Oh who am I kidding? It’s not that much fun. It’s fun to shop for my own kids because I “get” them, and I know what will genuinely make them happy (or I have sneaky ways to make them want what I want to give them). It’s a little more “challenging” to shop for other people’s kids. Of course I want to impress the kid, and kids––at least young kids––can’t fake liking your gift (bad parents), so you risk an unhappy kid and a shattered shopping ego.

Aside from scoring points with the kid, I also want to impress the kid’s parents and anyone else who might be in the room when the lucky child is opening the gift. I want to give a gift that is cool but safe, new but not untested, offbeat but not offcolor. I want to give that gift the kid talks about for years (a little misty-eyed as they get older); the gift the kid’s parent then buys for other people’s kids because it was just so damn special. I want everyone else to cower behind their less thoughtful, less special gifts. I want the kid to say “wow Auntie, Santa has nothing on your gifts!”

We work hard for that squeal (kid) and “oh my!” (awed parents, grandparents, and neighbors) and sometimes we not only lose track of our budgets, and senses, but we lose sight of a few basic considerations.

Respect Parental Limits.

This is the boring but basic first consideration of gift-shopping for kids. You really do need to check with their parents. See if there are gift no-no’s and don’t disobey them to win cheap points with the kids. If they ask you to obey a one-gift rule, please don’t show up with five. If there’s a $20 price-limit, please don’t spend $120. They are most likely trying to teach their kids to be content with less, a lesson the rest of us never learned (hence our mountains of consumer debt). Some parents don’t set limits, but they’ll appreciate you asking, and you can at least make sure your gift won’t duplicate with something they’re already planning to give.

Consider the Kid.

It’s not brain science, but often we forget to consider the kid we are shopping for. What is he interested in? Or more importantly, what is he not interested in? Chances are the artsy kid just doesn’t want that chemistry set (chances are no kid wants it!). Don’t get the unathletic kid a soccer ball to try to force an interest. It’s about the kids and their interests, not what we think they should be interested in. That’s not to say you can’t expose them to something new, just try to be considerate. You don’t want a disappointed kid on your conscience.

Read the Label.

You should really try to read beyond the marketing fluff and random award stickers when perusing the toy aisles. Just because it says “Won Outer Mongolia’s Most-Played-With Award for three years running,” doesn’t mean that it will in fact be appropriate or safe for the kid you are buying for. Appropriate and safe are the buzzwords here. Your three year-old nephew may be advanced for his age but that doesn’t mean it’s smart or safe to buy him a toy intended for a seven year-old. His parents will be flattered but you’ll be flattened if he ends up in the emergency room with a Bionicle piece in his nose. The toys are rated for a reason and the suggested ages listed on toys are a good indication of a toy’s safe and enjoyable use.

Also, check the label to make sure there are no toxic or dangerous materials used in the manufacturing of the toy. Parents have been bombarded with toy recalls this year, so they’ll be relieved and duly impressed to know that you were alert to lead-danger when gift shopping for their kid. Warning words to look for include “toxic,” “lethal,” and “Made in China.”

Consider the Size of My Apartment.

Really! Ask yourself if you would want that big pink plastic Barbie kitchen in your living room? If the answer is no, and the gift receiver doesn’t have a west wing in her home, don’t buy it. Bigger is only better when it comes to buying gifts for adult women. Kids will be impressed by the size of the box sure, but you can wrap a small gift in a big gigantic box and win the same, if not a better reaction. Plus you can get perverse kicks out of watching the parents exhale that you didn’t in fact buy them a big plastic monstrosity. Leave the really big gifts to the parents––they’ve put in the sleepless nights and potty-training hours, and they deserve the Biggest Gift Award. Same goes for noisy gifts. Remember, what goes around comes around!

Money Never Fails.

You can’t go wrong with a nice fat check. If you’re worried that the kid won’t “enjoy” receiving your gift, consider cold hard cash. Break it down into singles and put it in a suit case (you might want to find a kid-size suit case), or a cool new piggy bank. Add a catalog flagged with all the things they can now afford to buy with all the money you gave them. They’ll be thrilled and the parents will be thrilled and then the kids will forget to actually spend the money, and the parents will be even more thrilled.

Despite my own ambitions to please the kids, the parents, the pediatrician, and the neighbors too, I suggest that if you have to choose one happy gift-getter, choose the kid. Good luck with that!

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