Whether you’re buying for your own kids or someone else’s it’s important to think of the consequences of your gift-giving. GARY STEEL has a toddler and a 5-year-old and he’s been through the mill.
It seems so simple. Young kids are so easy to please, and the shops are full of shiny, glittery – and most importantly, cheap – delights. One of the brilliant things about children up to primary school age is that they really don’t know the difference between a cheap piece of junk and something that costs a few hundred bucks, so the temptation is to go a bit crazy and fill Santa’s sack with dazzling crap.
Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay, and we’re not talking in this instance about the environmental cost of all the plastic and glitter. Nope, we’re talking about the cost to your sanity and the sanctity of your home and hearth.
The temptation is to give gifts that we know will delight the little monsters, without considering how they’re going to use those gifts. So, here’s our small list of what to avoid giving this Xmas (and later, a few recommendations).
THE NO-GO LIST
Stickers – Stickers are everywhere and pre-schoolers love nothing more than books packed full of hundreds of stickers of various shapes and sizes. They’re usually as cheap as chips and seem like a real bargain until the horror of it all starts sinking in. It’s annoying enough that children seem to think that adults want to have every exposed part of their anatomy ‘stickerised’, but at least that’s merely temporary. But you quickly start discovering stickers on windows and doorframes and flooring tiles. In fact, wherever the stubby little fingers of children can get to, stickers will get stuck. Making matters worse, the adhesive properties of these stickers are such that they’re almost impossible to remove, which can turn a designer-living room into a random patchwork of gnomes and fairies and Elsa’s and unicorns in no time at all.
Marker Pens – When I was a kid back in the Jurassic era, I had a pencil, which I had to lovingly maintain, and occasionally I was allowed to dip into a box of crayons. Somehow, my daughter got her hands on marker pens (and distressingly, permanent markers) and from that moment on, pencils and crayons were of little interest. The shops are full of sets of multi-coloured marker pens and they’re amazingly cheap, but last about five minutes in the hands of a mischievous toddler, the nibs getting crushed under the impatient weight of tiny hands. They’re not only false economy, but they wreak havoc on a household. Why would a 3-year-old limit the use of a marker pen to a dull piece of paper when there are literally hundreds of different surfaces throughout the home to which a rainbow of colours can be applied? If you’ve got white walls or bookshelves or antique furniture or anything you want to ‘stay nice’, then beware the marker pen!
Noisy Toys – If you value your sanity, be very, very careful about purchasing toys that make noises. Unlike adults, kids and Taylor Swift fans get their rocks off on repetition of the most annoying, mundane sounds, so think about the consequences of buying that gabbling doll or screaming fire truck. Those crappy $2-type shops are the worst offenders, and sometimes the sounds can even be dangerously voluminous. Our kids somehow ended up with a red, squeezable horn-type thing that’s louder than a death metal show, and a silly soft toy monkey that screams when you throw it violently across the room is similarly tinnitus-inducing. And you can be sure that if it’s loud, the kids are going to want to hear that earache sound over, and over, and over again.
Glitter & Beads – My 5-year-old has been a glitter and bead freak since she could walk. An early interest in large trucks and tractors sadly regressed into “all things stereotypically girly”, and while it’s cute to see your kid covered in glitter, it’s a nightmare when these things (inevitably, and literally) go down the drain. They’re appalling for the environment, but also, potentially costly when you have to get the plumber out. And let’s face it, a 3-year-old isn’t going to give a rat’s ass if she loses a bead down the bathroom sink. And if – like us – you’ve got a 5-year-old who loves everything shiny and tiny and a 1-year-old who will swallow anything that’s on the floor and small enough to fit into his gob, you’ve got a potential tragedy on your hands.
Slime & Putty – Kids are predisposed to loving anything slimy and yucky and they’ll pressure their parents to have these things at their disposal. But be warned: parents have to be super-organised and kids have to be 100 percent monitored while playing with this stuff, because – like marker pens and stickers – it can really mess up your lovely home. To make matters worse, little monsters have a tendency to hide things like this in places they don’t belong, and what’s soft and squishy tends to go hard forever. We’ve had it stuck in the shag pile rug, stuck to the carpet under the couch, making a forever-mess underneath the child’s mattress (where it was put for safekeeping) and more.
Cheap Toys That Require Batteries – The better toys seem to be calibrated so that the batteries last one heck of a long time. Many of the cheaper toys require multiple batteries, which run out in no time at all. Replacement batteries in children’s toys have been an ongoing expense that we simply hadn’t anticipated. If we’d known this when we embarked on the saga of raising kids we’d have been more careful.
So, if you’re a kind aunt or uncle, think twice about buying kid gifts that will cause pain and consternation to the child’s parents, or you might just get crossed off that Xmas BBQ party list. And if you’re a parent, get wise and save yourself a world of pain and distress.
THE GO-GO LIST
Mermaids – Our 5-year-old has gone through a lot of phases. For a while, she was heavily into rainbows and unicorns (still is, to some degree) but her fascination with mermaids has lasted the distance. There are many mermaids on the market, and they’re all plastic shit, but some of them are less shit than others. The only ones worth getting are a bit more expensive (around $35) but they’re fully submersible in a bath and they’re tough enough to withstand every-night play and they even have flashing lights. Our daughter loves her flashing Barbie mermaid. A word of warning, however: any plastic toys used regularly in the bath will develop a kind of black mould, especially on the hairline. It’s important to dry the doll (or even wrap it up for the night) in a towel after bath time every night.
Crayons & Colouring Books – If they never get hooked on marker pens your kids will love colouring in with crayons. It’s a time-honoured way to keep them occupied and to spark their creativity.
Fake Remotes & Cellphones – As a parent, I was super-keen not to encourage my kids to develop an interest in technology and the tools adults use, but I hadn’t anticipated their preternatural interest in such things. Both our children (even our 1-year-old) are obsessed with gadgetry, and one of their most played-with toys has been a pretend remote control that has ‘channels’ but is really an educational toy teaching (and reading out) numbers and letters. Buy from a reputable store and these toys are usually incredibly well built and pretty much break-proof.
Frisbees & Simple Outdoor Activities – Xmas is summertime in NZ, so why not just go for something simple that’s going to give the kids hours of fun on the lawn or the beach? Something as simple (and relatively cheap) as a frisbee might seem a bit undercooked as a present, but the reality is that kids and adults will get real value out of this choice of gift. Of course, there are loads of other great outdoor-oriented prezzies as well.
No Gift Gifts – If you’re struggling to find a gift for a baby, why bother? The wee blighter isn’t going to know what to do with it anyway, and won’t remember your generosity later on. Make or buy some food for the kid’s parents and bring it in a box, then the baby can have hours of fun playing with the box.
Books, Books, Books – Children can never have enough good picture books and even tiny toddlers love being read to. The books don’t even have to be new – recycling is good as long as the pages aren’t torn out!
Enhanced Technology – Our 5-year-old adores technology and is already obsessed with her iPad. We limit her time on it and only download useful or educational apps. Fulfilling three of her interests in one – iPad, everything Frozen and drawing – is Osmo’s fabulous Super Studio Frozen 2. It’s a kind of AI thing where you attach the special pad to your iPad and draw on pictures from Frozen 2, which then move before your very eyes! To me, as an older dad, this is pretty much science fiction, but to our daughter, it’s just really cool, and it’s yet another way to feel like she’s closer to and can interact with the characters in Frozen 2.
Given the fact that she’s been pretty much obsessed with Frozen since she first saw it as a 3-year-old, it’s a no-brainer. Super Studio Frozen 2 is the latest in Osmo’s line of technologically-enhanced learning tools, and for early adopters and those who want to be ahead of the bell-curve, it’s the perfect gift idea. Osmo’s Super Studio Frozen 2 is available from a range of local and online stores for an RRP of $54.95.