Practical Dad

A PracticalDad Primer:  Buying Kids’ Birthday Gifts

You check out the daily mail and for once, you can tell Junior that he actually got real mail.  And gee, it's a birthday invitation.  Great for him but not so great for you since you now have to purchase a birthday gift for little Jimmy Nebbish.

When many parents spend a huge amount of time running to and from work, store, activities and sport practices, it's a real effort to have to make time to get to the local Toys R Us or KB.  The product line is largely the same and given the ubiquity of television programming and advertising, most kids will generally want the same type of thing. 

So what is your best option, apart from firing up the minivan for another gas-consuming KB run?

First, talk to Jimmy's Dad or Mom about what kind of things he likes or if there's anything that they'd prefer Jimmy not receive.  In every instance of talking with the other parent, the response has been very generic - art, action figures, sporting stuff, games - and they're sometimes frankly hoping that Jimmy has someone show up for the party.  I've never received a response that Jimmy has to have a Darth Vader Star Wars Helmet (although I have encountered that request on a Wedding Registry) or the Purple Little Pony. 

Next, just go to the gift box in the closet and pull out a generally appropriate toy or game for a gift.  What box in the closet?

The one that holds the general assortment of items that you buy on sale at the local store for just such an occasion.  Wait for a time that you can go to the local toy store and buy two or three gifts for each particular age level child you have.  Use the sale as an opportunity to stock up for the next two years so that the ill-timed party runs are minimized. 

What to get?  A good rule of thumb for Pregifting is that anything that's a supplement to an existing system or product is best left to the grandparents or Uncle Louis - Jimmy has a Dell in his room and would love the latest Halo 3, playable on an XP operating system.  You can buy it at GameStop or Amazon for... - since they usually haven't much of a clue about what to get and can get the information easily from Jimmy's folks.  So consider these possibilities.

  • Games that aren't gender specific.  For the toddler/preschooler, games like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland and Guess Zoo are always popular among kids.  I once had a bunch of high-schoolers at my house for a youth-group session and the first hour was spent playing Candyland; the teens took turns playing so that everyone could have a chance to play.
  • Storybook Collections.   If you buy a specific book, there's always the possibility that Jimmy has already read it.  A bound collection minimizes the chance that Jimmy won't be interested since he's read it, and also gives Jimmy's 'rents an opportunity to see what other authors might hold Jimmy's interests.
  • Avoid electonics, even Leap-Pad and Leap-Frog.  There are too many alternative systems available for such a warehousing operation as this; you buy Leap-Pad and Jimmy has Leap-Frog, a wasted effort.  As to PC games, what's the Operating System?
  • Art and creativity products.  Various Play-Doh products are popular, as well as things like Etch-a-Sketch.
  • Certain gender-specific toys.  Action figures are great for boys, but be sure to at least update the gift stash so that Jimmy isn't getting Skeletor or Space Ghost.  Girls usually go to dolls and accessories, or craft bead and accessorizing kits.

As the kids age, they'll probably want to spend time shopping for the gift but you can always keep a small stash of giftcards available in a drawer for such moments.  Even your kids might hit a wall as to what Jimmy wants and the travelling onus will then be on Jimmy's folks.

The above ideas all indicate the same general premise - old isn't necessarily bad and simpler is better.  So get stocked up.  Birthday season is coming.

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