Updated: Nov 19, 2021
There are a lot of great idea lists out there telling you what gifts to get kids for Christmas (or birthdays, etc.). However, I haven't seen many lists that tell you what NOT to get a young child. Probably because no one wants to be the meany who writes that list, right? So...disclaimer...a huge THANK YOU to anyone who has bought these types of gifts, and others, for my children. I am so appreciative of the love and joy you give to them through gifts. I've just learned a few things in the process and thought that information was worth sharing. Fair? Okay...here we go. Here's my list of things not to buy for young children.
Let's start off with a simple one. Please stay away from anything sticky. Slime, putty, and yes, even stickers. These things can certainly be fun for kids. Stickers, specifically, are inexpensive, cute, and seem harmless. However, what ages are stickers for? In my opinion, stickers are more suited for older children who are writing notes to their friends or making handmade cards and such like that. Similarly, slime and putty-type things are not for young children either (and some parents would like to say no at any age). With young children, these things just end up stuck everywhere you don't want them to be. Furniture. Hardwood floors. Toys. Siblings' hair. I've had to scrape cute little stickers off of my hardwood floors more than a few times. Our dining room table has some Play-Doh permanently stuck in the cracks. That's something that they can only play with under supervision...like once a month.
I know this one may strike a chord, only because my kids have gotten HEAPS of stuffed animals over their short 3-year, 2-year and 10-month lives. Yes, they are so cute, soft, and cuddly. So, what's the problem with stuffed animals, you ask? They simply don't get played with. My kids, at least, each have 1-2 stuffed animals that they love, sleep with, and play with. The dozens of others just end up all over the floor- because where else do you put them?
Also, everyone seems to get the kids stuffed animals. So, it's not necessarily an issue that you got them each a cute little stuffed animal for Christmas. The problem is that so did four other people. Therefore, now I've got 12 new stuffed animals lying around the house. So, if I can eliminate even one from coming into my house this Christmas, that'll be a win for me.
Lastly, stuffed animals don't go to heaven. Sadly, second-hand stores won't take them because they play it safe in case the home was unsanitary and the animal carries something. Animal shelters will take some, but not if they have button-eyes or anything like that (which are a choking hazard for young children just as much as they are for animals). I have a hard time regifting stuffed animals too. So where do they go when we acquire too many? This may hurt a little...but, they end up in the trash.
Sets with Small Pieces
Any toy that boasts "20-piece set" or anything like that- steer clear. Unless it was specifically asked for or is educational. With young children, 10 out of those 20 pieces will be missing within a week. Where do they go, you ask? I honestly don't know any more than you do, but I suspect that the couch eats them. Young children don't have very long attention spans. They're also fidgety. They don't sit and play with a toy in one spot and then gather up all of the pieces and put them away before moving onto something else. They play with this for 2 minutes, then get this thing out also, then take a few of the pieces over here and play with something else for a while. Then, when you leave the house to go somewhere, they just HAVE to take one of the pieces in the car. You get the picture. Gone-zo.
I did put a play cash register on the kids' wish list this year. Gideon has been wanting to play store a lot lately, so I think he'll really love it. It's a great educational free play tool. However, it does come with a bunch of play money...74 pieces to be exact. Yikes! My plan is to put the play coins away for a later date. This is mostly because they are choking hazards, but also because I know they'll just end up ALL OVER THE HOUSE if I don't. I'll let him play with the bills, even though I know they'll probably get ripped and thrown away here and there. I really just wanted a cash register with no added pieces, but that's not even a thing. Anyway, in general, unless you know the family is going to welcome the gift with open arms, don't go for something with a ton of small pieces.
Toys Above Their Age
I'm guilty of this one myself. We see toys that look cool and fun and just buy them. However, over the last few years, I've learned that the age recommendations are actually there for a good purpose.
For Gideon's 3rd birthday, we got him a remote control car. The age rec was 4-6, I believe. So, he was close, but not quite there. When he opened it, he was so excited and wanted to play with it right away. However, it took him a long while to figure out how to use the controls on the remote. Then once he did, he wasn't coordinated enough to do both at once. So he could only propel it straight forward OR turn it, but not both. I think Daddy played with it more than he did. We've since lost the charger too, which means it's likely heading for the trash during my pre-Christmas toy purge. Yep...that's a thing!
Now, yes, I am a believer in letting kids play with board games above their age level. But not in the intended way and only under supervision. And further yet, I wouldn't buy my children games above their level, I'm simply letting them free play with the ones we already have (details in blog post). If I'm going to buy them a game for the purpose of playing it together, it will be in the right age range.
This category includes things like Play-Doh, slime, art supplies, basically, anything messy. Some age recommendations are based on safety. Toys with small pieces aren't suited for young children who still like to put things in their mouths. Also, consider the ages of all of the kiddos in the house. For the cash register I talked about above, I'm not concerned about Gideon (almost 4) choking on the coins. Aside from the annoyance factor, I'll be putting those away mainly so they don't end up on the floor where Ezra (10 months) will pick them up and immediately put them in his mouth. So, even though the toy is age-appropriate for Gideon, I still have to be careful with it because of his little brother.
Screens, Candy, & Supplies
Lastly, unless something is specifically asked for, it's best to steer clear of screens, candy/food, and supplies. These are things that, in my opinion, should be solely up to the parents to get. For example, my children do not have their own screens and I have no intention of changing that any time soon. Yes, I know they can be educational, but they can also be addictive and harmful. And it's my choice to decide if and when I want them to have one, and what type.
Candy is fine in moderation, but it kind of falls into the stuffed animal category above: It's not necessarily an issue that you gave them a stocking full of candy, but the fact that so did their grandparents, neighbors, and the "candy lady" at church. (Gotta love Ms. Irene!) Not to mention the fact that the last 3 months of every year are filled with candy. If you want to get them one or two little things, that's probably fine. But, don't go crazy. It might just end up in the trash if the parents aren't too keen on sugar-loading their kids.
By supplies, I mean soaps and lotions, bath-bubbles/bombs, cups and plates, etc. There's nothing wrong with buying these things per se, however, some kids may have allergies and sensitivities. Most kids get used to one particular type of cup or utensil, so something different simply might not get used, even if there's a fun pattern or character on it. And so on. These things are just hit and miss on whether the child will actually use it, so I wouldn't waste your money.
So...what gifts should you buy young children? Well, there are already a ton of those lists out there, so I won't reinvent the wheel. If you're looking for fun, educational toys that won't drive the parents crazy, I love the Busy Toddler gift guides. The toys she recommends are all age-appropriate ones that can grow with the child. And none of them fall into any of the categories above. This link here is all you will ever need. She provides separate lists for babies, one-year olds, toddlers, preschoolers, big kids, games, non-toy gifts, outdoor toys, and more! Also, if you still aren't sure, you can always ask the parents to make an Amazon wish list for the kids. That's what we do. We don't expect everything from it and don't care if grandparents get them things not on it. It just gives them a nice starting place, at least, if they are looking for ideas.
Is there anything I missed that you would add to the list of gifts NOT to get young children? Comment and let me know!
~Ashley Bell, your pediatric sleep consultant