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Should I Buy Christmas Gifts for My Baby?

“What toys would you suggest buying for a 1-year-old? Christmas is coming up, and my daughter’s birthday is 10 days after, but there are so many options that I feel overwhelmed. Please help!” ~ Cheryl M

‘Tis the season to be jolly — and the reason to be shopping, too, especially for your little girl. Celebrating her first birthday and the first Christmas when she might actually be able to open her presents and enjoy them — both within a 10-day span. Wow!

The possibilities are endless, but the presents probably shouldn’t be. Though it will be tremendously tempting to buy, buy, baby, it might be wise to curb your shopping enthusiasm, for a few reasons. First, the cliché is oh-so-true: Toddlers almost always prefer the wrapping paper (so much ripping satisfaction!) and boxes (for stomping on…climbing on or into….wearing as a hat!) to the toys within. Second, less is definitely more when it comes to toddlers, especially brand-new toddlers — too many toys, especially when they’re brought on all at once (or twice in her case) will be too overwhelming. Some typical toddler reactions to being overwhelmed by gifts: ignoring them all, scattering or even throwing them all, or — always a toddler prerogative — having a meltdown. And third, it’s never too soon to start thinking about preventing the “gimmes” (which can become a beast by the preschool years if left unchecked), or to start teaching the gift of giving (it will take a while, but early efforts are sure to pay empathy dividends, eventually).

So, try to take a quality vs. quantity approach to shopping for your sweetie. Keep the total number of gifts down and focus on making smart choices instead of giving in to whims, impulse buys, and bright shiny objects — a challenge whether you’re walking the aisles of local toy store or letting your thumbs do the walking through your favorite shopping apps. Something else to keep down: the number of gimmicks and gadgets and gizmos, and even the number of battery-operated toys. Simple and old-school might not seem so stimulating, until you consider that imagination and creativity need no batteries (your toddler comes equipped with those). Best for her overall development — from social to intellectual to verbal, fine motor to large motor — are toys that are powered by her. Toys that are open-ended, no place she has to start or have to stop — that come with few rules or no rules (safety aside). Toys that allow HER to be the boss, the scientist, the inventor, and the creative director.

Some good options for one-year-olds: push and pull toys, especially those that allow for role playing, like a shopping cart (she will love putting all kinds of items in the cart as she rolls…watch your wallet, phone, and keys!) or a baby stroller (these are both perfect picks for boy or girl toddlers, since they can mimic Mommy or Daddy in their roles as shoppers and nurturers). Ride-on toys, preferably ones that are toddler-powered, not battery-powered. 

More good options: Toys that allow her to begin building that budding imagination: a doctor’s kit, a play cell phone, a play kitchen, a workbench or play tools, dolls (the kind that have no skills, i.e. walking or talking, allowing her to develop her own skills). Toys that allow her to make music — instead of always having the music made for her: the classic xylophone (pullable for extra points) or a baby keyboard or tambourine. Shape sorters and simple wooden puzzles. Simple Little People sets (my kids’ absolute favs at that age), which will let her imagination soar on a plane, roar in a zoo, and buzz on a fire engine or a dump truck.

Don’t forget art supplies that are age appropriate: chunky crayons to start scribbling with, non-toxic finger paints (not every toddler enjoys the sensation, so start small!), and large rolls of paper that can be taped to the floor or coffee table (toddler creativity knows no bounds, which means washable surfaces and washable mediums will minimize mess). Do make sure that the paper you choose can be used with the medium you’ve chosen (i.e. that it works with paint or crayons).

Of course, don’t forget the books, including lift-the-flap or pull-the-tab or feel-the-texture books that she can manipulate (with supervision) and indestructible books that she can pull off the shelf anytime she’d like to page through them, all with simple stories and bold, colorful illustrations that she can identify (or identify with).

Thinking about bringing the play space home? While big ticket (and just plain big) toys like ball pits and water tables and full on train sets on tracks and bedroom climbing gyms may be thrilling at first, they often become ho-hum fast…and end up taking up space long after they’ve stopped holding a toddler’s interest. Some are germ-trappers, too, as well as dust-collectors. Plus, that’s what afternoons at the place space or children’s museum are for!

One safety caveat to all toddler toy-buying (and toy buying at any age for that matter): Yes, your Christmas cutie may be the brightest bulb on the tree, and certainly the most gifted, but remember that the recommended age ranges that come with toys don’t only take into account development, but also safety. A little who might be developmentally ready to play with a toy long before the recommended age listed might not be ready to play with it safely (say, inserting a small piece into her small mouth). So play it safe when it comes to play things.

Happy shopping, but more importantly, happy holidays and happy birthday hugs to your little girl! One is fun!



Help Me, Heidi! is a weekly advice column in which What to Expect creator Heidi Murkoff answers your most pressing pregnancy and parenting questions. She’s tackling the stuff you are desperate to know right now — so if you have a question, ask Heidi here or on Facebook and she might answer in an upcoming column. (Not sure if Heidi’s answered one of your questions? Check out the rest of the columns here.)


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