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Holiday Gift Guide: How to Shop for Babies and Toddlers

Let’s face it: tiny kids can be hard to shop for. It seems like everything’s either a choking hazard or so loud and obnoxious that it’ll mysteriously break or disappear in the night before the grownups start beating their heads against the wall. Here are a few ideas for the tiny person in your life that will tickle their fancy and please even the pickiest of parents.

"Little Quack" by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Derek Anderson
Quack quack quack!

The first suggestion I always make for little kids is books. Many people don’t think to get them, and trust me, Goodnight Moon gets old fast when you’re reading it every time the kiddo goes down for a nap, so the parents will probably appreciate it even more than the kid. For babies and young toddlers, board books are definitely the way to go since they’ll probably spend as much time chewing the books as looking at the pictures and it’s easier for tiny fingers to turn the thicker pages. I’m a huge fan of used books, but for these, new is much safer (check discount stores and warehouse clubs for really good deals). Interactive books are great; kids love anything with flaps, mirrors, or textured inserts, although at this age pop-up books will get ripped to shreds. One mistake I made a lot before I had a baby was giving people big anthologies of favorite stories. That’s great when for older kids, but it’s nearly impossible to hold an infant and an oversized hardcover at the same time. Older toddlers will love picture books, anything that rhymes, and small storybooks. Books with recurring characters are also great; they’ll love seeing what their friend will do next and it gives you built in presents for the next time you need one! My 2½-year-old is currently addicted to the Little Quack series and the First Look and Find books (basically, Where’s Waldo for little kids).

Cover of Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Madonna
Vogue, baby!

Music is another good gift for babies and toddlers. There are dozens of CDs of children’s songs, music from their favorite TV shows, and the ever-popular classical music for babies. For slightly hipper parents, though, I absolutely love Rockabye Baby. They do instrumental covers of mostly rock, pop, and alternative music, and they’re awesome. There’s something truly twisted about nursing your child to sleep while humming along to Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” being soothingly played on a glockenspiel. With choices from Bob Marley to Kanye West, The Beach Boys to Green Day, there’s sure to be something to suit nearly any musical taste.

Clothing can be a cute and practical gift, but the sizing can be tricky if you aren’t used to buying infant/toddler clothing. If the label says “6 months,” that usually means it’s sized to fit the average 3-6 month old, and many kids will grow out of that size before actually turning 6 months old. If you know the kid’s height and weight, most brands list that on the label as well; if the kid is near the upper end of the range given, get the next size up. Also keep in mind what the kid will actually wear. Fancy clothes are adorable, but they won’t get much use since Mom or Dad probably won’t want them to get covered in pureed carrots or dirt from the playground.

Of course, toys are always welcome! Be sure to check the recommended age range to ensure that they’re developmentally appropriate and that the kid won’t grow out of it too quickly. If a toy is labelled 6-18 months, for example, a 5-month-old might not be able to play with it immediately but will grow into it pretty quickly, and a 17-month-old may get bored after playing with it a couple times. Anything with small pieces will be labeled 3+ and have a note about choking hazards, but most older 2-year-olds have probably stopped eating everything in sight and can safely play with them. If you’re dealing with helicopter parents, though, skip those toys. Any stuffed animals or dolls with bead or button eyes are also considered choking hazards, so look for toys with stitched eyes. Babies will love toys with different textures and things that light up and make noise. Young toddlers are big fans of blocks, dolls, cars, push toys, stacking rings, shape puzzles, and anything else that helps with coordination or learning cause and effect. Older toddlers love pretend play, so dress-up clothes, tea party sets, fake food, shopping carts, tool benches, and other toys that let them imitate Mom or Dad will be a huge hit. Learning toys are also great; two-year-olds may have a blast learning their letters, numbers, colors, and shapes, and there are any number of toys and games to teach them these skills.

Also, keep in mind when shopping for babies and toddlers that you don’t need to stick to strict gender stereotypes! If given the chance to play with them, lots of little boys love dolls and tea parties and lots of little girls like fire trucks and sports. But don’t despair if your niece is obsessed with Disney Princesses and your nephew hates them, either. Every kid has different interests, and it’s okay if they align with the stereotypes so long as they know that there’s nothing wrong with going against them.

By [E] Hillary

Hillary is a giant nerd and former Mathlete. She once read large swaths of "Why Evolution is True" and a geology book aloud to her infant daughter, in the hopes of a) instilling a love of science in her from a very young age and b) boring her to sleep. After escaping the wilds of Waco, Texas and spending the next decade in NYC, she currently lives in upstate New York, where she misses being able to get decent pizza and Chinese takeout delivered to her house. She lost on Jeopardy.

3 replies on “Holiday Gift Guide: How to Shop for Babies and Toddlers”

Those tag blankets for newborns are pretty cool, and you can get them from somebody on Etsy.

My biggest advice: ask the parents before jumping in.  It makes things less exciting if it’s not a huge surprise, but you know what?  If you send me some sort of stick-thin white girl doll with long, flowy blond hair, it is immediately going into the “donate” bin.  I know, I’m a mean parent, but I only have control over the media messages of beauty for a short time, and I am going to wield that control.

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