[As an aside, how cute is this wrapping paper made by my students – with the guidance of a teacher who wasn’t me – for Christmas this year?]
Before we had Little Fearse we gave some dreadful gifts to other people’s children. At the time they seemed perfect – they connected with the child’s age, or interests, or reminded us of something we’d loved as children, or seemed cool, or irresistibly cute. Generally speaking, these gifts were well thought through, it’s just that we had no understanding of how these gifts affected the parents. We had experience of being kids, but not of being parents and this is where our mistakes were made.
Now that we have a child of our own we understand that many gifts are perhaps kid friendly, but definitely not parent friendly. Some of them are neither. Here is the Fearse Family guide to giving parent friendly gifts to children.
1. When possible ask the parents what the child may want or need. This helps avoid children having six pillow pets or three baby dolls and gives parents an opportunity to tell you something their child actually needs.
2. Consider an experience gift. This may be an outing to the zoo, beach or park, or something more elaborate like a treasure hunt or a day at a fun park. Either way, the child has an experience with an adult other than their parents and maybe the parents get a day off, too.
3. Think outside the box for consumable gifts, for example, home made coupons for reading together, building something together, teaching them a new skill, making a toy or item of clothing. The best gift Little Fearse received this Christmas was a home made muffin mix, which came in a beautiful jar with the recipe attached (along with a wooden spoon). Best of all, the givers (her Aunty and Uncle) asked us to come to their house to cook them together. Perfect!
4. Children can still find joy in a useful gift. If the child is under about 3 years old, they probably won’t even notice. If the gift is for a birthday or Christmas and you know the child will be receiving a lot of other toys, consider something that their parents will have to buy anyway. You will probably buy a snazzier brand or a cuter style than their every day items, anyway, so it will still be special. Think cute toothbrushes, fun bubble baths, funky hair accessories or adorable clothing.
5. Find toys that encourage imaginative play. Can you think of five different ways the child can play with the toy? Many toys have a limited use, or don’t particularly encourage imaginative play, if possible, avoid giving gifts such as these. They usually end up as clutter.
6. Put the soft toy away. Almost all children have too many soft toys already and once they hug one and give it a name it is very hard to get rid of. They take up a lot of space and can be neglected for months or years at a time.
7. If in doubt, consult the parents. Accept that they may say ‘no’. Give them permission to say ‘no’. I would recommend consulting parents before giving a gimmicky gift (e.g. t.v. or film merchandise), large gifts or gifts that require a lot of up-keep (e.g. cacti, fish).
8. If the gift needs assembly offer your services, or assemble it first.
9. Kids love dress ups. Accessories such as hats, masks, capes, fancy adult shoes and cheap jewellery can be used in a trillion different ways to create different characters. These are gifts that are inexpensive, easy to store and can be used in a huge variety of ways.
10. Think about durability. The toy should be durable enough to be played with for hours, then handed on to another child who plays with it for hours and then passed on to another child who plays with it for hours. Rinse. Repeat. (Yes, this is an “ideal world” situation,but if I had one wish for the world…okay, if I had 10 wishes for the world one of them would be that all people considered the durability of everything before they bought it.)
11. If you want your gift to be well used buy something useful such as a book or music.
12. Many parents (or at least this one) are happy to receive gently used hand-me-downs. If your child has loved something but grown out of playing with it, consider passing it on as a gift for a new child to enjoy. If you’re unsure, ask the parents.
While this guide is designed to keep parents happy it also considers the whole child. A child who is inundated with plastic (you could read that as “toxic”), crappy toys is not a happier child than the one who is encouraged to use their imagination, or the child who is offered an opportunity to learn a new skill, or the child that is offered quality one-on-one time with an adult who genuinely cares for them.