Apparently we have entered birthday season because the invitations are rolling in and it seems every other day I am either RSVP’ing to a party, doing something for one of the two parties for my own kids, or rushing out to pick up the perfect gift for a child who I haven’t met.
Why Shopping for Kids’ Birthday Gifts is Hard
I continually underestimate how hard it is to buy gifts for other people’s children because I keep assuming that since I have kids the same age as the birthday child, I just need to buy something my own child would like. This seems like a reasonable assumption, doesn’t it? Well, it’s wrong!
No Gifts Please
Don’t get me wrong. I admire the parents who have decided their kids don’t need more junk. Not to mention the kids who are content to go along with the no gift birthday.
But for those of us who grew up with a parent whose love language is gifting, it feels so WRONG to show up at a birthday party without a gift.
Thankfully, you can honor the request and avoid the guilt with some of these clever “no gifts please” non-gift ideas.
Boy or Girl?
The first problem I run into is that until middle school, most birthday parties are co-ed. The result is that about half of the parties your child is invited to are for a member of the opposite sex.
And though they may play well together and enjoy attending each other’s birthday parties, boys and girls definitely have distinct preferences in toys. Yes, there is the occasional girl who would prefer a Nerf gun to a Barbie doll or a boy who would prefer Littlest Pet Shop toys to Legos, but they are the exception, not the rule.
So, your little Johnny is no help when it comes to picking a gift for Susie.
The next problem I face is that my friends have pretty shallow, albeit friendly, relationships with most of their classmates. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that they’re sociable and get along with the people in their classes, but it would be nice if they could provide me with more information than, “She wears purple a lot and she’s good at spelling.”
Even worse, sometimes they know exactly what the person wants for his or her birthday. “He REALLY wants the Beyblade Metal Masters Arena.”
If this is the only thing the kid is asking for, chances are his parents are already getting it for him, or one of the 15 other people going to the party.
Of course, maybe everyone else is assuming that too, but do you really want to take the chance and have yours returned leading them to discover that you bought it on sale, you cheapskate?!
Birthday Gift Ideas For Kids
So, what’s a mom of an eager partygoer to do? Luckily, you have a few options.
- Gift Cards or Cash: Most kids earn a meager allowance if they earn one at all, so getting $20 in a birthday windfall makes a big impression. If you go the gift card route, choose a store that will offer variety for the child and doesn’t require mom or dad to drive too far so that she can use it. My favorites are Target or Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, GameStop, and Justice or Claire’s, iTunes.
- Games: While some grown-ups might roll their eyes at board games, most kids still enjoy them. Their moms and dads will appreciate this gift too if they are hosting the party at home because it will provide a way to entertain the kids until they are claimed by their parents at the end of the party. The trick is to pick one that will be popular but that they don’t already own. In my opinion, your safest bets are Hedbanz, Perplexus, Spot It, MindTrap Left Brain Right Brain and Cranium Hullabaloo.
- Kits: Assuming the parents of the birthday child haven’t done anything to make you hate them, your gift-giving objective should include making them happy too. Do you really think they want to find a home for 20 new toys that they will have to yell at their child to clean up every day? Kit gifts eliminate this problem since typically many of the items in the kit will get used up and either disposed of or sent home with some of the birthday child’s friends (since making stuff is always more fun when you do it with someone else). Depending on the age and gender of the birthday child, you have a variety of kits from which to choose. Simply stroll through this section at Michael’s and you will find: Jewelry-making, arts and crafts, science experiments, crystal growing, and suncatcher kits. If you want to branch out from the obvious though, here are my recommendations:
- Paper Bag Puppets – This is a craft that kids are familiar with, kicked up a notch with fun, colorful decorations. Fun for boys and girls ages 3-5.
- Magnetic Poetry Really Big Words – The really big refers to the size of the magnets, not the length of the words. In fact, you’ll find almost all your beginner readers’ sight words here. This magnetic poetry kit is the perfect bridge between toddlers’ magnetic letters and the adult magnetic poetry. I haven’t met anyone yet, child or adult, who doesn’t like moving the words around to make sentences. Geared towards boys and girls ages 5-7.
- Crime Catchers Spy Science Kit – CSI for kids. They get to solve mysteries using science. Sure hit with boys (and some girls) ages 5-8.
- 4M Robots (Doodling, Brush, Tin Can, or Racer) – Each of these robot kits are under $15 and easy to put together, satisfying boys’ mechanical compulsions without the typically associated frustration. Ideal for boys ages 8-12.
- American Girls Cootie Catcher Kit – These do-it-yourself fortune tellers are just as popular now as when we were kids and this kit has several cute designs. Great for girls ages 8-12.
- Desktop Warfare (Catapult, Trebuchet, or Ballista) – If somehow your teenage son is still getting invited to birthday parties, these are good gifts that will satisfy the dueling needs of boys in puberty to be both manly and childlike because they are toys that are also weapons (but not so dangerous that his parents will cross you off their social roster). In case you missed it, this is a good gift for boys ages 13-18.
- Nail Decorating Kit – Almost all teenage girls like to do their nails at least occasionally and unlike us, they don’t go the traditional French manicure route. For them, it’s all about the bling. I couldn’t find a kit online that had everything that I usually throw in one of these, but here are some individual items you might want to include if you decide to give one as a gift: nail polish, special effect nail polish (e.g. crackle), nail art, and decorating pens. Great gift for girls ages 13-18.