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Five presents you should never buy other people’s kids

All ye generous friends and family out there, please remember – a present is for life, not just for the first five minutes.

PEOPLE ARE INCREDIBLY generous when it comes to children. They just love buying for them. Particularly little ones. And who wouldn’t? The unadulterated joy that comes with hitting the right note with a child’s present is hard to beat (at least, that is, until they get old enough to decide that they don’t actually like the gift, but before they reach the age to understand it’s grossly impolite to share said fact).

I always joke that as the number of kids in our household has increased, there has been a corresponding decrease in the number and size of presents mum and dad receive. It’s as if there’s an annual set budget for present buying per household, and Mum and Dad are always first ones to get hit with ‘austerity’. And understandably so. Which is completely fine, so long as whatever presents are being purchased make our lives as parents easier to navigate, rather than harder.

Try to be the friend or relative who buys with the parent in mind, not the child. Not a popular message I appreciate, but everyone else goes for the ‘Wow!’ factor, the squeals of delight, the big hugs and ecstatic kisses from the child. They entirely miss the simultaneous image of parent subtlety banging their head against the nearest brick wall at the prospect of the mother of all tantrums later on that same said day, when the sugar hangover surfaces, or the irreplaceable battery shoved up some impenetrable orifice ups and dies, or dolly’s minuscule shoe inevitably goes missing down the back of the couch.

All ye generous friends and family out there, please remember – a present is for life, not just for the first five minutes. So go on, take the road less travelled, and opt for the sensible number, not the crowd pleaser. Do, and you will be invited back (even if you don’t want to be).

Here are just a few small examples I have stumbled across over the years…

1. Unsuitable footwear

Unless you’re willing to provide a blank cheque, along with an ‘IOU An All Day Accompaniment to Temple Street’ to deal with the repercussions, these are just a non runner (excuse the pun).

Anything that has even a modicum of a heel, anything without a good, solid crossover strap or – the worst of all offenders – those rubber princess numbers which barely pass for shoes at all, are very likely to result in the child careening across their kitchen tiles at best, or down two flights of stairs at worst. Something as fundamental as what roots their child to the ground, should, in my humble opinion, be reserved for parental selection only.

2. Buying one of anything, where there is more than one child in the equation

Please don’t differentiate. They will find other ways of expressing their individuality. I promise. It’s not boring, or unimaginative, or lazy. All you need to remember is to just be decidedly unoriginal, and buy two of the same thing.

As in, identical. EXACTLY the same thing. Different colours to two small kids is like a red rag to a bull, regardless of their gender. They don’t come with blue/pink preferences pre-built into their DNA. Any excuse for a fight, and they’ll be off killing each other over who gets blue and who gets pink. Probably before they’ve even thanked you for the gift in the first place.

3. Sugar. Of any description.

Unless you’re willing to stick around for the ‘come down’, please don’t be their ‘dealer’. Dolling out sweets/chocolate/E-numbers to young kids, and then doing a legger, is the equivalent of that annoying guy in the office who gets everyone plastered on shots and then sneaks off home leaving carnage in his wake.

If you’re not going to be around to manage the hangover, then please don’t introduce sugar in the first place. How many otherwise pleasant afternoons have gone pear-shaped after some bright spark saw fit to introduce Smarties into the equation? (Ditto for Easter eggs. The fact that the sugar is cunningly disguised as an appropriate seasonal ornament for the mantel piece matters little, once they’ve ingested an entire egg in one sitting).

4. Summer ‘clothes’

News flash: we live in a country which has approximately two days a year which can be described as ‘scorchers’, during which kids can be let loose, wearing nothing more than stringy vests or sundresses. Most ‘summer’ days in Ireland consist of a T-shirt worn under an omni-present fleece, with perhaps even a woolly hat stashed in the nappy bag somewhere, alongside the more optimistic sunhat, cream and Dunnes Stores shades.

So when my daughter gets her little mits upon gorgeous, delicate sundresses, or sun-tops complete with pretty floral designs and elegant bows, but with a tog value of circa minus 5, all out war ensues. Why? Because for the next month the virtual beachwear is all she wants to wear. Even if it’s bloody snowing outside.

So when it comes to selecting children’s clothes as gifts, much as it goes against the grain, think practical. Please. It’s always preferable from mum’s perspective to have a few extra vests and pants to a tutu or those dreaded princess shoes. Jazz up the necessary staples if you have to, but go with substance over style and you’ll be considered an absolute legend by the mother. And, let’s face it, a happy mum is a happy child.

Ditto for unsuitable swimwear by the way. Unless the child has the skin of a rhinoceros, an all in one number is vastly preferable to a bikini. No matter how cute.

5. Toys that don’t serve any purpose (or that can destroy a couch in seconds)

Somewhere in history, some bright spark had the great idea that kids like teddy bears. Whereas, in actual fact, the extent to which kids have any real interest in oversized, dust gathering, beady eye choking, space takers is vastly overrated. One, maybe two is grand. But, particularly amongst our parent’s generation, teddies remain all the rage, season after season.

They tend to get greeted with a modicum of interest when first presented to the child, and are thereafter completely forgotten about in favour of a toy that actually does something. Funnier still is the sheer number I got after both kids were born, particularly given that every safety manual known to man advises against putting them next or near a newborn.

By complete contrast, another ‘family favourite’, far from remaining innocuously in the corner, has the destructive power of an atomic bomb. Depositing a set of markers with a small child is the equivalent of going to your garden shed, opening a pot of Dulux, and telling them to go for it. There’s no such thing as ‘washable’ when it comes to most household surfaces (carpets, couches, clothes etc). If you’re lucky, the worst you’ll have to deal with is a child who looks as if there were let loose in a tattoo parlour on a stag weekend.

Time isn’t on our side…

Always remember the one commodity that every parent is short of is time. So presents that create space and time for mum and dad will always be a winner. With everyone. So think velcro and zips instead of impossibly cute, minuscule buttons, which a child will never sit still long enough to fasten, and may even have the odd stab at choking on. Think extra baby-gros for a newborn instead of Interflora. Think a home-grown babysitting voucher, instead of lights, plastic, action!

If it comes complete with a few hours worth of one-on-one, down on the floor, playtime, it will beat any overpriced gift, hands down. When it comes to baby and children’s presents, the reality is that oftentimes less is more.

In this day and age, most homes in the country are laden down with children’s gifts that weren’t really needed or properly appreciated, whereas there probably isn’t a child in the land who wouldn’t benefit from having an extra story read to them every now and again. Particularly if the storyteller is someone other than their parents.

Claire Micks is an occasional writer. Read her columns for here.

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