A Guide to Giving Gifts to 0-3 year olds (and staying friends with their parents)

At times I feel like I live in a giant toy box.

A real photo of my kids’ toys!

I can’t even get to the bathroom without going on a safari through Lego jungle, being confronted by a talking doll and getting stuck in a traffic jam of multi-colored cars. Then, there are no guarantees the bathroom will be free of obstacles.

When all the stars align: I’m home from work, kids are BOTH sleeping, I have enough energy, I have enough time, I’m in the right mood, nothing else is more urgent (ie, almost never), I go through the house and organize all the kid stuff. Sometimes it takes hours. Then…when the kids wake up, faster than you can say “futility” my house relapses to its former state.

Less than 4 years ago I had no idea what to get little kids for gifts. My friends were probably cursing my name as they scraped (and scraped and scraped) the stickers I gave their baby off some heirloom piece of furniture.

Many of the gifts my kids receive are not age – appropriate. Save your money and your friendships… follow these guidelines for giving gifts to kids age 0-3!

1. No puzzles or toys with lots of small pieces. Giving a baby or a toddler a puzzle is like saying to their parents, “I know you have a lot to do, but why don’t you add picking up and assembling 100 pieces from 10 different puzzles several times a day? Kids this age just dump them, wait until you pick it up, and dump them again. This goes for pretty much everything with lots of little pieces …wait until they are older.

2. Choose Medium Sized Gifts: I’ve already discussed the issues with small pieces. Huge toys are almost as problematic, especially in a small house. It’s like asking someone if you can store your boat in their living room, and then expecting a thank you note. Aim for the size of a classic teddy bear.

3. Avoid Loud Toys. Imagine a baby or two crying… add a dog barking, a toddler Pandora station in the background and probably a phone ringing. Okay, now imagine a very cheerful voice singing “The wheels on the bus go… The wheels on the bus go round and… The wheels on the bus go round and round….”  because they never just push the button once. I’m getting a migraine just thinking about it. Then the batteries start to fade, and the cheerful voice gets a little spooky. I have had the spooky-voice-version of wheels on the bus in my head for about 3 years.

4. Books. Board books are best, as most babies love the sound and sense of accomplishment that comes from tearing paper pages. Little ones especially love looking at pictures of big baby faces. Too many words are lost on them, but colorful, detailed pictures and concise stories can offer hours of imaginative fun and learning.

5. No Stickers. They won’t stay put on skin (where my daughter wants them to stay) but they stay a little too well on furniture. Have you ever washed a stickered shirt? I promise, that shirt will never be the same. And the dumb things lose their stickiness if you rearrange them on your clothes too many times… causing all sorts of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

6. Sizes and Seasons. If you want your little friend to actually get to wear the cute outfit you bought, be mindful of the size and the season. If you are buying clothing for a 3 month old baby in June (say, in Minnesota)… don’t get a tank top and shorts in the 9 month size. When that baby is ready for 9 month clothing, it’s going to be -20◦F.

7. Go Green… or orange Our oldest child is a girl. We were blessed with many lovely pink and purple gifts. Our second child (who didn’t get all the showers and fanfare as the second born) is a boy. He is a boy who has a lot of pink sparkly toys and gear, including a bib that reads, “SISTER.”


8. Go Green…as in recycle. Save the earth, buy an outfit from the thrift store for a $1.00! The previous owner probably grew out of it before he could wear it anyway because guideline #6 was not headed.

9. Give Experiences. A pass to the zoo or the museum or even a McDonald’s gift certificate will get those kids (and their caregivers) out of the house and having some fun.

I hope that helps! What about you? What are your favorite/ least favorite items for 0-3 year old. Join the conversation below!

Peace (amidst clutter and chaos),

p.s. after I wrote this, and before I published it, I came across this provocative article about avoiding too many toys for a different reason than I outlined above, and this helpful blog post about how to properly visit a newborn. All great points!

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