A Simple Gift-Giving Guide

holiday Gift-giving Guide

A Simple Gift-Giving Guide

As someone that plays with and purchases lots of toys, I get asked about the best toys to give as gifts each year. I understand the desire to buy what’s new and hot on a list. A gift-giving guide can be complicated based on ages and interests. Most kids have something in mind that they want. However, sometimes the best gifts can be surprises, presents that take a child a little out of his or her comfort zone, or ones that give a child a companion when playing solo.

80's Christmas

When I think back to my childhood, I can remember the holidays as a special time. I had my birthday between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Therefore, I looked forward to what magical gift would come my way only once a year. One year, I received a Casio keyboard. It became my prize possession. It wasn’t something that I remember asking for, but it became everything to me. One of the reasons I loved it so much is because I could play it on my own. Even though I had siblings, there was an age difference where there were times when playing together wasn’t always an option. Having a toy that I could play with for hours helped me to learn a new skill without time limits imposed by my brother or sister. This simple toy taught me how to follow and memorize a sequence and explore my creativity. Most importantly, I was then able to share my new skills with my family making my musician father especially proud.

casio keyboard

My advice to parents nowadays is to remember some simple concepts when buying gifts. It isn’t so important that you buy the perfect or most talked about gift. What really matters is that you take time to think about what can bring joy or encourage playfulness in your child. As much as practical gifts like clothing can be useful, the spirit of the holidays can be best experienced when seeing a child unwrap a gift that creates moments of spontaneous play. So choose gifts that will inspire your child in some way. Here are some questions to consider when buying toys for any age group.

Is this age appropriate?

Some toys may be too challenging for a child, and they could lose interest quickly. Some toys may be appropriate if your child is more mature than the suggested age. Take a few moments to imagine your child playing with the toy before you click buy. If you feel it will frustrate them too much, maybe consider a toy that they are ready for at the moment. Sometimes I use toys with children that are suggested for older children, but I know that I can give them the support to help them feel successful.

Will this help to develop a skill?

Flashy and techy doesn’t always mean it will lead to progress. Some toys are great for social play while others for example may increase hand strength or balance skills. Play is part of your child’s learning process, so don’t be afraid to choose educational toys. Also consider whether you will be able to play with your child if he or she may need help. Before you toss it into your cart, consider the plan for when it will be used.

Will this still be interesting after a couple uses?

Some toys seem like they may be fun for a few moments and then the magic disappears. From my experience, I believe constructional toys or tools for creativity lend themselves to be used more regularly and in a variety of ways. The majority of toys that I use as a therapist that children also enjoy are ones that are classic in some way but may have a modern twist. For example, I may use toys that are a type of block but have a different way of connecting like with magnets or a slide mechanism. 

What does my child love to do?

You do want to encourage a selection of options. This can be tricky if your child obsesses over only particular toys and refuses all others. However, for children that have a healthy interest in particular activities, it is good to acknowledge and encourage their preferences. For example, it is important not to shy away from toys that may seem gender specific. If your daughter likes to build, be sure to get her toys where she can. If your son likes to draw, be sure to get him the tools so he can. Don’t let the idea of “boy” and “girl” toys discourage you from supporting their interests.

Overall there are no wrong or right toys. With a great imagination, anything from paper towels to toothpicks can be made into a fun toy. Know that as long as you instill an understanding of gracious giving and receiving, any gift can bring a smile to a child’s face. I hope this simple guide empowers you to embrace the holiday season and to be kind to yourself with your gift-giving decisions. In the words of Ester Hicks, “The greatest gift you can ever give another person is your own happiness.”

Amy Baez, MOT, OTR/L

Amy Baez is the Founder of Playapy and Creator of the PALS Handwriting Program. She is a pediatric occupational therapist, speaker, and parent coach with close to 20 years of experience. Learn more at www.amybaez.com.