By Gregory Keer
I am usually a last-minute shopper, which makes things even more intense. But as life gets busier, I’ve found that thinking ahead — if not shopping in advance — can go a long way toward making gift buying much easier. I’ve tried all of the following (though not always in the same year), which can help you manage this crazy season.
1. Have Fun
First, if you really think about, shopping for kids is one of life’s true pleasures. Buying something you worked hard to pay for and that you chose just for your child is wonderful. It’s also a way to live vicariously through your kids, buying things you would’ve liked to play with and certainly items you want to use in interacting with your kids. That being said, this is all a stressful proposition that you should plan for, so…
2. Lower Stress
Start early and shop at odd hours to lower the stress level. And don’t shop hungry — low blood sugar or high blood sugar can be dangerous (for you and the kids)!
3. Money Isn’t Everything
Set a budget and perhaps a number of toys you plan to get. Remember that grandparents and friends may give gifts, so do not feel pressured to ply your child with too much. They will ignore most of their toys within days if not minutes. You might even consider giving your little one a box to play with. No joke, but kids can hide, make puppet shows, forts, and more with just a big old box.
4. Age Appropriateness
Especially for younger kids, opt for items that require children to manipulate them. Too many electronic games do stuff automatically. Children develop motor skills and cognitive skills with toys they can build, stack, and color. Toys that multitask and can be combined with other things. Imagination is key – cars, character sets, i.e., Rescue Heroes and Barbies.
For the older kids, video and computer games are hard to avoid. Decide how much violence you want them to see in these games. Some research says these games are actually healthy, though never in large doses. Older kids tend to also like clothes, music, DVDs, and even cash to spend how they wish. With younger kids, you will shop with them, but older ones might like to get a budget and shop for themselves. Giving them money helps them focus on the task at hand and may get them in the spirit of giving. They may even do some additional chores to earn extra money.
5. Balance What They Want with What They Should Have
If you want guaranteed smiles, be sure to buy kids at least something that they asked for. On the other hand, you can select one or two things you think they should have, something education or challenging. If you’re really clever, you can lobby onto your child’s wish list if you make subtle suggestions like, “Your friend Jacob has a chemistry set. Isn’t that cool?”
6. Gender Gap
The gap is thinner than it used to be now that young boys will play with dolls and young girls covet baseball mitts. Even older boys are more into clothes than they used to be. Still, young boys favor trucks, superheroes, and trains while girls love dress-up clothes — princesses are bigger than ever — dolls, and fashion accessories. That being said, a creative purchase for boys or girls is costumes for imaginative play.
7. Types of Stores
Toy stores, video game stores, book stores, shoe stores, clothing stores, sporting goods shops. Bookstores are especially fine places to shop and not feel guilty. Think about balancing your list with items from the above kinds of stores.
Fun Ways to Make Lists
1. Stay Focused
Go in with a list to limit the tantrums and negotiations. You will probably have a fair amount of repartee with your child, simply because toy stores are meant to overwhelm parents and kids with all that can be had. So don’t expect a pain-free experience. On the other hand, do expect to have a good time. Pay attention at birthday parties; see what kids get and like. Pay attention at playdates and other social visits. What does your child love? If they can write (or need the practice), have them write their own list.
Kids ask for things all the time. On the list, prioritize those items that they ask for more than once or twice.
3. Written Promises
Whatever your child doesn’t get, write the item down on a new list for their birthday or next year. This will lessen the crying and whining
A Nifty Trick & A Warning
1. Try hiding some still-packaged toys and pulling them out of the closet for well-timed opportunities throughout the year.
2. Regarding toy safety, it’s best to stick with box recommendations and use your good sense about potentially dangerous toys.
While anxiety is an organic element of holiday shopping, these suggestions can truly help you minimize some of the big issues. The more you plan in advance, the more this experience will be about spending time with and teaching your kids a few things about the world of commerce.