Good Gift or Good Grief?

by Brenda Nixon

Worried about the right gift for your child? Want true value for your dollar? Are you besieged by gift ideas? The holidays can be a time of angst. But with these suggestions, it can be a time of confident composure.

Basically, the "right" gift for any youngster begins with meeting three standards: safety, multiple use, and age-suitability.

Safety is always a first consideration. Look for well-made, durable toys, games or books. Follow the package safety guidelines and read consumer alerts as your guideline. Unfortunately, accidents can happen even with "safe" toys, but do your best to eliminate some possibilities. Think big especially when purchasing for a tot under three. Toys and their parts should be larger than the child's mouth, which may eliminate the possibility of being swallowed.

Second, make sure your gift involves many of your child's senses. Does your gift invite his physical involvement, stimulating his eyes, ears, or body? And does it trigger imagination? If you answer "yes," then your gift has multiple play value giving you a good return on your investment. Be original in your selection. Avoid buying the popular electronic gadgets that require no imagination.

Third, give gifts that are just right for your child's age nothing overly simple or too complicated. A gift that is effortless today becomes boring and ignored tomorrow. On the other hand, one that's too hard will most likely be put away and forgotten. Then you've wasted your money. It's helpful to follow manufacturer's age recommendation because these usually strike that right balance of stimulation. Also, observe the type of activities or toys that attract your youngster, so you have a strong indication of what he'll play with.

Here's a list of gift ideas that meet the three standards and will bring joy to the tots in your life:


The best "gift" for a newborn, whose only concern is being out of discomfort, is attention. Other good options include bouncy seat or infant car seat. Savings bonds or mutual funds will be appreciated by him and his parents when he's ready for college.

2 to 6 months:

Hand-held toys
Mobile or chimes
Unbreakable mirror squeaky rubber toys
Soft books with high-contrast patterns
Blankets with textures and brightly colored surfaces

7 to 12 months:

Balls of assorted sizes
Soft blocks
Bath toys
Cardboard books with large pictures
Teething toys
Soft stuffed animals or dolls

1 to 2 years

Cardboard books with simple pictures
Feeding supplies, such as plates, cups, bowls, spoons, forks
Push/pull toys
Shape sorter
Child-sized furniture
Pounding and banging toys
Stacking/nesting cups
Grocery cart with plastic foods
Large 3-piece puzzles
Climbing gym

2 years

Paper-paged books
Simple musical instruments
Fat crayons/markers
Construction toys
Kid-size kitchen pots, pans and dishes
Toy telephone
Farm animal set
Climbing toys
Tricycle and helmet
Colorful 5 piece puzzles
Sidewalk chalk

3 years

Costumes, dress-up clothing
Dolls, teddy bears
Toy telephone, lawn mower, vacuum
Riding toys
Slides, swings, balancing beams
Shape/color educational materials
Board/card games
Scissors and non-toxic art supplies

4 years

Pretend toys, play money, telephone
Jungle gym
Stringing beads
Lacing cards
Paper-paged books
Tape recorder, audiotapes, sing-a-long tapes and videos
Musical instruments
Bicycle and helmet
Roller skates
Board/card games

5 years

Sports equipment, jump ropes
Craft kids
Construction toys
Modeling clay
Board/card/video games
Encyclopedia set
Stamp kit
Child-sized sleeping bag
Coloring books, crayons, markers

6 to 9-Year Olds:

Card/board games
Fashion and career dolls for girls
Action figures for boys
Craft kits/model toys
A larger bicycle
Roller skates/roller blades
Sports equipment and protective gear

9 to 12 Year-Olds:

Chemistry sets
Model kits
Advanced construction sets
Video/electronic games, especially those requiring strategy decisions
Musical instruments/keyboard

13 to 16 Year-Olds:

Electronic games/computer-based systems
Adult board/card games
Collection items: dolls, model toys, stuffed animals are common.
Books/music CDs/audiotapes

One unique gift sure to please most kids is experience. Enroll your child in a class at the local recreation center so he learns a new skill. Give coupons to take your child on a special weekend getaway or pay his way to camp. Experiences give rich and lasting memories and there's no price tag on those.

Brenda Nixon partners with organizations to educate and encourage parents. She is a professional speaker and the author of Parenting Power in the Early Years and The Birth to Five Book

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