What not to get my children for their birthdays

Tuesday 25th April, 2023

Before I had kids, I loved buying gifts for other people's children. I was the cool aunt. The one who would ignore the lists and get something that I just knew would be their absolute favourite toy / game / item of clothing. Loud toys, messy toys, dangerous stunt toys… anything that would cement my place in their minds as fun, young and relatable. That was before I had 2 kids and an ever-growing pile of unwanted crap in my house.

Parties and Obligations

My son recently turned 3 and my daughter is about to turn 5. Both milestones have required a party (oh how I miss the covid days where no-one was allowed to have parties except for the Prime Minister). My kids are at an age where they play in large groups at nursery, so that involves a lot of pre-schoolers. Add this to out-of-nursery friends and it comes to about 20 kids. All of these kids are obliged to take gifts for the birthday child.

I hate this obligation.

The other parents hate this obligation.

However, obviously, for the kids this is one of the highpoints of having a party. They are excited and wide eyed to see what wonderful gifts their friends have bought them. Of course, most of their friends have had absolutely no input into the gift. If you ask your child "what gift should I get for 'birthday child'?" they will list off some toys that they want for themselves. Asking for child input also resulted in my son choosing some very pink unicorn and mermaid colouring-in books for the birthday party of a boy in his class, but that is a whole other story. At least my attempts to avoid gender stereotyping their toys has not been in vain.

As this is one of these social events that involves complex interactions and masked intentions, you can't offer suggestions for gifts. You can't look like you or your child are actually asking for gifts, even though you all know that a gift will be given. I have tried messaging a parent before a party asking what their child would like, and have been answered with, "Oh don't worry about a gift, all my child wants is to have fun with her friends!" Yeah right, I can't risk my child being the only one without a gift and becoming the talk of the nursery school gossip circuit. When other parents have messaged me I have at least said, "She likes animals, Lego and My Little Pony, but the main thing is having fun with her friends!"

What Not To Buy

Anyway, to my point, it is very hard to give generic advice as to what to buy a kid you don't know for their birthday… but I can tell you a few things not to get:

What To Buy For Kids You Don't Know

The main point of this post is that it is near impossible to generalise, but it would be rude to not offer any help:

Don't Beat Yourself Up

The main thing to remember is that the child is going to be opening 15 to 20 gifts at once. It is insanely overwhelming for a child that is overtired and running entirely on Fruit Shoots and Freddos. Even though the parent will be frantically trying to write down which child bought what so that they can send a thank you text, the child is unlikely to remember who bought everything. You are not going to increase your own child's social status by buying an amazing gift, nor are you going to have got the child their new favourite toy. If you can come up with something consumable that is not food then great, you are not contributing to the emotional load of clutter that the parents have to deal with.

And if any other parents ask what to get your child, direct them to their thingstogetme.com list, of course.

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