Your child has been invited to a birthday party, and you want to buy a gift to impress.
So far so good.
Now ask yourself: ‘Do I want to impress the child or the parent?’ Because in my opinion, you can’t have it both ways.
Scientists have discovered* there’s a direct correlation between how much a child loves a present and how much their parents hate it.
To help prevent you from p*ssing anyone off, I’ve compiled this handy list of gifts to snap up or avoid, depending on who you’re aiming to keep happy.
(disclaimer: if you’ve ever bought Eric or Bear something on the list below please don’t take offence. The reason it’s on this list is because my sons genuinely loved it. Unfortunately, a part of me wept when they unwrapped it.)
Stickers are the preschool equivalent of hard drugs. Toddlers can’t get enough of them, and they’re highly addictive. Give a preschooler a sheet of stickers and they wont be able to sit still, or even breathe, until every last one has been stuck somewhere it shouldn’t be. It takes just 16 seconds for a 4-year-old to cover every surface in the house with the darned things, compared with the 14.75 hours it takes their parents to remove them all. I had to surgically remove three Paw Patrol pups from inside Bear’s ear after Eric’s latest fix. It’s a dangerous habit and we owe it to our children, and our furniture, to nip this in the bud.
You could buy the child in question a book about dinosaurs. They’d love that. But the true purpose of books is not to entertain children; it’s to make them go to sleep. They’re not going to do that if they’re bouncing off the walls pretending to be a T-Rex. And don’t even contemplate a pop-up or lift-the-flap book. They’re far too interactive for bedtime, on top of which the child’s parent will spend the next four days looking for some Sellotape to stick it all back together. If you’re going to invest in a book make sure it’s a crap one.
Pre-parenthood I used to love a spot of crafting. I had visions of spending hours sticking, cutting and doing all kinds of creative shizzle with my future kids. The reality is children can’t craft for toffee. They get glue and glitter everywhere (apart from the object they’re meant to be decorating), they’d rather maim their siblings with scissors than cut fancy shapes out of cards, and THEY ALWAYS COLOUR OVER THE LINES. Crafting with kids is not calming. It’s chaos. Leave such activities to nursery and buy them a DVD instead.
Anything that makes a noise/lights up
Listening to a toy ambulance siren for five consecutive hours is bad enough during daylight hours. At night-time it takes on a whole new level of annoying. The moment you step on a misplaced Toot Toot vehicle the room explodes with enough noises and lights to wake up an entire continent. The same goes for drum kits, electronic song books, singing torches – basically anything with batteries and an ‘On’ switch.
A board game
I don’t have an issue with board games per se. It’s all the sh*t that comes with it that’s the problem. There’re usually counters, dice, bits of plastic, cards and a whole host of other choke hazards included in the box. These will spend the next decade hidden beneath bits of furniture or in random cupboards – apart from the really big bits, which will find their way into the vacuum cleaner and break it. If you really must buy someone a board game then just give them the board part and chuck the rest.
So, you bought the birthday boy or girl a carrycase of felt tips and paints, because you thought they might like to draw their mummy a picture? A likely story. That unlucky mummy now has crap all over her walls and upholstery, and she’s sending you the cleaning bill.
These fun educational pieces of plastic have been driving parents nuts for generations. They end up EVERYWHERE, and hurt like hell if you stand on them without your slippers on. Besides, kids can never actually build the thing on the box so end up demanding you sacrifice half your afternoon trying to fathom out the instructions. Then they take it apart and expect you to build it all over again. Avoid.
A Nerf gun/water pistol/anything that fires things
For his 4th birthday, our friends bought Eric a fast-action, wrist-loaded Nerf gun. I say ‘friends’, but I’m not sure I’m too fond of them anymore. Within 30 seconds Eric had managed to shoot his dad and brother in the eye at close range and knock over my glass of fizzy wine. The same ‘friends’ handed Eric a fully loaded water pistol, which was fine because I love it when my clothes are soaked in public. The only saving grace with a Nerf gun is that kids very quickly lose all the bullets, thus rendering it redundant. Even so, I’d suggest avoiding any type of firing thing as a gift, unless you’re happy for your child to be omitted from all future party invitations.
I feel a bit of a fraud having this one on the list, because for the last four parties Eric has attended he’s rocked up bearing Play Doh. Kids love the stuff. Eric particularly loves dumping his Play Doh paraphernalia on the table as we’re about to eat dinner, or when we’ve just finished clearing up the crumbly mess from his previous stint on the Sizzlin’ Stove Top. Meanwhile, Bear loves nothing more than mixing all the differently coloured pots of Doh into one huge ball and then eating it, making sure he drops just enough so that we’re left picking rock-hard neon pink blobs out of the carpet for weeks. Hours of fun…
Buy my child a toy car and that’s one extra thing I have to tidy up at the end of the night. Buy them a jigsaw and that’s 24 extra things (minimum) I have to pick up. Then they have a meltdown when they realise they’ve lost a piece and can no longer complete the damn thing. One relative pulled off a corker at Easter and bought Eric a whole book of jigsaws. That’s five freaking jigsaws in one pop. We immediately shoved it to the back of a drawer and denied it ever existed.
So there you have it. A handy list of the gifts that will make a pre-schooler cry with joy, and their parents cry with a different kind of emotion altogether. If you can think of any I’ve missed off please get in touch and I’ll bear it in mind when the next party invitation drops through the letterbox.
*I’m not actually sure whether this has been backed up by scientific research, but I’m pretty sure it should be.