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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Rules For Finding That Perfect Gift For Your Child

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This for all those desperate parents who face the dooming prospect of finding themselves with just over a week before Christmas Eve (the wrapping overnight) to buy presents for your children.

Between my wife and I we represent families of 80 grandchildren between them! Yes, nuclear families you can be stunned and shocked now. Now, we were each one of those grandchildren and I was the oldest in my generation which was 40+ the most recent of which has not yet graduated from college. Also, most of these live within the Chicago regional area and so I had a chance to grow up and see them react to Christmas presents of all kinds.

My cousins have started on the next generation and so I have seen many recent reactions by children and parents to the current crop of toys and I feel that my experiences can yield vital aid to the unwary parent with less experience.

Some Rules-Guidelines to Consider When Buying Christmas Presents For Your Children

  • Consider the age of your child in selecting presents. I won't go into the obvious facts about babys who won't remember their presents in later years, obviously their presents tend to be mostly to reassure you that you are doing everything you can to make them safe, warm, dry, comfy and really, really cute. If possible, child movie stars.Wrap presents for young children in interesting playable boxes and such since that is what they will want to play with. Keep their presents cheap since the quality of gifts will be ignored until about age 3. After that the power of TV commercials ruins them and your wallet for life.
  • Every toy purchase must be assessed in terms of how much damage it can inflict on you either passively or aggressively. I put your needs first because if you trip on a Magnetix marble and fall down the stairs and are crippled for life it will hardly do much good in providing for your little darlings' future. Especially be wary of toys that can be used to wake you up in the morning by toddlers who don't know that hitting Daddy in the tummy or head with the Little People Farm House will not cause brain damage, hemorrhaging, a ruptured appendix, or just massive pain. Remember, from the law's point of view, being woken up in the morning by being banged repeatedly on the head with a giant metal dump truck is not a legal cause for tossing the kid across the room. They will send you to jail for that. For a long time. A long painful time.
  • Every toy purchase must be assessed on the damage it can do when it is thrown, hurled or tossed across the room when your younger child has a tantrum because he or she was not allowed to open the bread first or help saute the mushrooms for dinner at age 3. Interestingly, young children, while lacking the ability to hit their target have a remarkable ability to hit some target, especially when they have no target in mind. When buying balls, soft balls are far better than rubber balls. Little metal cars and wedding crystal do not mix. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! Don't worry too much, your head is the likely accidental target in nearly every case.
  • Buying cheap often yields more child diversion than buying expensive. When children scream for gifts, the $0.79 blow up punching ball gets far more use than many of the electronic toys you can get today. You know the ones I mean, the ones with the long rubber tube at the end that once the ball is inflated you roll up into the ball until it disappears and has a big heavy rubber band that goes through a loop on the other end. Most kids can make it go starting at 3 and 4 years old AND it is a great anger and aggression release. Have 10 in reserve in case friends are over and they are all grumpy. If you can't find them, try the local party store where you get the goody bag stuff for birthday parties. A lot of those things make great toys.For many years of childhood, quantity is valued far more than quality. Don't be an idiot and buy someone under 16 one really expensive gift and then nothing else except clothes. Young kids love to open presents. "Are there any more presents for me to open?" = "Am I as loved as I think I am?" Here is where suggestion number 5 really helps you out. You know you are going to probably buy some really nice items, but no younger child will be unhappy opening 5-20 small items priced between $1-$3 if they are things they will really use.
  • And I do mean small, until they wise up. Even still, even through the teenage years, a few extra small thoughtful presents will go a long way. A gas card, some movie tickets, inexpensive jewelry, that kind of thing. For the smaller crowd, when you are giving extra presents to open, coloring books, trademark or not playing cards, funny pens, squirting things, tiny action figures, little cars, light up bars or necklaces, fake jewelry, tiny watches, candy, whatever, it is important to wrap it separately so that each one counts an individual gift, but, small items wrap faster than big items so give yourself a break and buy small. Even sizes count too. Squares are easier to wrap than round suckers bundled together, unless you have a small box. And the box can hold precious treasures found along the way, so consider decorating the box itself so that the top and bottom have the paper pasted on, inside and out on one present and the closure is done with a ribbon. Good for rock collections and girls items alike. And the paper does not have to have reindeer on it.
  • Back to self preservation. Be wary of gifts that have multiple tiny parts of any kind. Especially those where when you lose one the whole set is ruined. This is not always intuitive to the casual observer. I'm not naming any names (Hot Wheels TM) but some kits have lots of parts that require a lot of skill to put together even when you have the instruction sheet and some of the parts are easily confused with parts from the other kits and can wind up on the floor where you may happen to walk on them in your late night trek in socks or bare feet from the bedroom to the (Ouch!) kitchen or bathroom, where in hopping up and down, impaling yourself even deeper on the toy, you crush the part making the whole kit useless.
  • Give at least one or two entertaining books that you won't mind reading over and over and over and over and over to and with your child. (See lists below.) Pick good ones and reading time will be a bonding thing that you will always remember.
  • Resist the temptation to get non-seasonal gifts, especially if there is a chance your child will outgrow those roller blades by spring. You can always give a little card with a picture of them saying that you will get some for them then, until then they will have to content them self with this winter related item they can use now.
  • Avoid projectile toys. The obvious self-preservation aspect of this rule needs no elaboration.
  • Avoid objects capable of making fire. Ditto.
  • Avoid toys that make really loud noise unless you have really solid floors, or a heated garage, or that drum set comes with headphones.
  • Substitute inexpensive expansion pieces when possible. You can buy extra Thomas the Tank Engine TM wooden track for twice the amount that you can buy the nearly equivalent quality Brio TM wooden track, or not. Does Thomas care what kind of track he's on? I don't think so. Note that Thomas Carry Along set Trains (square stubby magnets and different gauge) are not compatible with the wooden and blue plastic track models (larger round magnets). Carpe Diem.
  • Encourage your children to buy or make(!) presents for others at as young an age as possible. As they see how much work it is, they will value the gifts that they receive and the meaning behind them even more.
  • Always remember that Christmas should be about Faith, Family and Fun. If you put the emphasis there and not on the toys, (or television - I do mean football too) then so should your kids.
  • Try to have some Christmas activities over the holidays, not just Christmas day, but other free days as well. By Christmas, I actually mean whatever holiday you celebrate at this time, if any.
I hope these tips, "wit" aside, are helpful.

Seasons greetings and happy holidays to all.

May the coming weeks be ones of peace, joy, reconciliation and happiness.

Peter



Recommended Children's Books
Right-click the links to see information at Amazon.com including reviews and excerpts.
You can search for other books, toys, electronics and other gifts using the Amazon search box at the top right of this page.


Love You Forever
by Robert N. Munsch and Sheila McGraw
An enchanting and powerful story, about the love between a mother and child. The kind that makes you laugh, and makes you cry, and then makes your heart smile deep inside in a way you can never, ever forget. And neither will your child.

In the Night Kitchen (Caldecott Collection)
By Maurice Sendak author of Where the Wild Things Are
An amazing romp through the kitchens of the night with Sendak's mind at work.
Totally original, hard to forget.

Where the Wild Things Are (Not under your bed!)
Of course, just in case you happened to miss Sendak's classic, you and your child will love being monsters every night in this amazing romp with its wonderful and award winning magical drawings.

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub (and he won't get out!)
by Audrey Wood, Don Wood (Illustrator)
This is as rare and as funny a story as you will find made even more funny by Don Wood's illustrations. Sometimes it's nice to be King. For example, no one can tell you when you have to get out of the bathtub, especially if it's a very nice bathtub. Perfect for the child with bath issues or not. Funny, funny, funny.

Strega Nona
Speaking of funny, don't miss author and illustrator Tomie dePaola's saga about Pasta Power and what happens when you don't follow directions. One of those tales we wish we had when we were young so you will enjoy reading it over and over again too, and laugh at the illustrations as well. I happened to meet the author on a book signing tour and a more charming and funny fellow you could not hope to meet.

For Older Kids

The Forgotten Door
by Alexander Key
I discovered this book in 3rd grade and loved it. It's about a young boy named Jon who falls through a doorway in space that leads to Earth. Jon is just like an Earth boy but has a few extra powers that get him into trouble with some of the worst of the locals. What happens to him? Is his fate the same as the deer killed by poachers? Only one way to find out. I still read it every few years. Darn, will have to read it again this weekend. It will be worth it.

My Side of the Mountain
Is a classic for older children and teens who want to know more about wild life and the outdoor. It is the first book in a trilogy by Jean Craighead George. This was the book on which the thrilling 1969 movie was made which I also recommend strongly.
My Side of the Mountain DVD

Book Lists

Finally, here are some links to recommendations for great children's books by some of the contributor's to Amazon.com. Just click on the link and look at the list.

Books to Read Out Loud
A good list submitted by a librarian who led storytime at her library.

25 Books to Read Aloud to a Kid an Adult Can Enjoy Too
Another excellent list, with some series books for slightly older children in mind.

50 Greatest Books of the World by Billy
Billy has picked some great reads.

Books That Defined My Childhood as a Young Girl

Build an Excellent Library for Children 9 to 13

Something With You in Mind

Finally, something with you in mind. Even grown-ups like to have a little off time. So here's a suggestion from me for something fun to get and watch. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer 40 Disc Collector's Set has the complete series from beginning to end. I know it's a bit expensive, but it should have good resale value on eBay and it is one of the best series that has ever been on television. Why not click on it and see the reviews?


The Buffy the Vampire Slayer 40 Disc Collector's Set

Still couldn't find what you were looking for? Use the Amazon Search Box at the top of this page!

As for books, if you want to look for a specific book I have not mentioned, just use the search box at the top of the page. You can also look for lots of other stuff too.

I hope all this has been helpful.

Season's greetings.


Reading to your child every day is the single most important thing you can do to help them succeed in school.

Peter

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