Choosing a gift to give for children’s birthday parties should involve the preschool and elementary school age child invited to attend the birthday party.

Two invitations came in the mail today. A preschool classmate invited 3-yr-old Casey to a birthday party and a soccer teammate invited 8-yr-old Travis to come to a party. If you are the parent of one or more of the invitees, you play an important role in the process of giving an appropriate gift.


Birthday Party Gift Shopping with Preschoolers
Gift shopping with preschoolers is a little like bringing hungry people to a buffet and instructing them not to eat. Up until age seven, children are in the “egocentric” phase of social emotional development. They can only see their own needs and feelings. Holding someone else’s happiness at the forefront of a decision can hardly be expected, but you can guide your child in that general direction. Here’s how you avoid conflict. Tell the young shopper that in addition to finding a great gift for the birthday child, the two of you are also looking to see what might be a great gift for his or her own next gift-receiving opportunity. Now your trip becomes a double treasure hunt, rather than a conflict between opposing missions.

With preschoolers, chances are good that you know the birthday child well enough to easily identify a suitable gift. You’re probably well acquainted with your child’s playmates and know whether a superhero cape is a welcome idea. Fighting crime may or may not be something hid parents want to encourage at play time.  Likewise, a present or food or gift card should be in keeping with family’s political religious or health beliefs. If you don’t know the child or the family that well, stick to generic, developmentally appropriate toys – an animal puppet, sand toys, or a nondescript wooden vehicle to encourage imaginary play. A toy your child is likely to enjoy is probably a good bet. That’s why you take Casey along on the shopping trip.

Elementary Age Children Can Help Choose the Birthday Party Gift
By elementary school age, parents are much less connected to every family in Travis’s social sphere. You may not know this birthday child at all. Use your guidance to being focus to the individuality of the gift recipient. Ask Travis about the particular hobbies and interests of his friends. If he hasn’t got a clue, his assignment is to research his friend’s pastimes. Cooking? Art? Rock collecting?  Animal husbandry? History? Space? Marie life? If he hasn’t been to the birthday child’s home, Travis can draw clues from conversations about sports, pets, collections, or how the child spends time with his family. In this way, you can help develop compassion in Travis as he moves past the egocentric stage and gets better at taking someone else’s point of view.

PARENT GUIDENCE REQUIRED When Choosing a Birthday Party Gift
Let’s say you have a good idea that the recipient will be thrilled to receive an ant farm. Stop and consider what the child’s parents might think first. Gifts such as live animals, chemistry sets, tickets to specific movies or plays, and gift cards to restaurants require parental involvement and, therefore, prior approval. Parents should also be consulted if there’s a collaborative gift in the planning – a specialty summer camp or a pricey video game – with guests contributing to the common cause. If asked, parents may have some other suggestions: a gift card to a child’s favorite store or parts to a set.

Note to child’s birthday parents: your invitation, party place, or party theme can provide gift seekers with much appreciated clues. A “We’ll drive the guests to the Go-Kart Track” invitation suggests the Birthday child would enjoy a gift of toy cars. A beach party implies gifts such as a beach towel, inflatable animal float, or picnic basket would be appropriate. A “Come as a Princess Party” suggests your daughter would enjoy some frou frou dress-up clothes or custom jewelry. A homemade gist can be very special. With some parental consultation, you could hand-paint a chair or wooden toy chest for the Birthday Child’s room. Your child could decorate a picture frame and include a photo. Another idea is to type up a recipe and puck up the ingredients and tools for an easy-to-cook food.

Teach Kids: The Thought Counts When Giving a Birthday Party Present
Let’s say you miss the mark in choosing a gift – your daughter convinces you that any friends of hers would just love neon nail and polish and sparkly hair scrunchies and the birthday girl turns out to be a rock collecting, dungaree-wearing, short haired, child of nature. Oops. Or you hit a bulls eye with the perfect gift- a locomotive wall clock for birthday child’s newly decorated room – but do did three other guests. What happens to inapt gifts? Yes, the gift might be exchanged at the place of purchase, passed on to a more suitable recipient, or sold at the next family yard sale. That’s what you do, right? Then, fine. You did your best, now celebrate the day. The guest of honor deserves nothing less. Gift selection with your child provides an opportunity to teach the value of thinking of others.

Kids should be involved in choosing the presents they give their friends at birthday parties and they will learn that it’s the thought that counts when it comes to giving.

Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, Bowie, Calvert and Prince George’s County and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.