This post may contain affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
It’s official. Once you’re over 25, you will have made the transition from receiving gifts from random strangers to the random stranger who has to give your friends’ kids gifts. Whether for Christmas or birthday or half birthday or whatever else your friends decide to celebrate for their kids, you may end up being invited to said festivities and thus burdened with the ever-so-annoying task of buying some shit that you’re not even sure the kid would appreciate. It’s either that or being that guy who doesn’t bring a gift to a party and you don’t want that either, even when the parent says “Oh you don’t have to get them anything!” you KNOW that they actually mean “Oh I know you don’t know what to get kids so don’t worry about it.”
Challenge accepted. I got you.
The magic sweet spot for friends’ kids gifting is it has to be useful enough for the parent to appreciate it, but still fun for the kid (because you want to be the cool one), and also something kind of off the mainstream path so the parent hasn’t gotten it for them yet. Oh and obviously not super expensive because dude, you’re just the weird auntie/uncle still, and no need to invest in that kind of relationship.
Bookmark this gift guide for Easter, the holidays, birthdays, what have you, because before you know it your calendar that was previously filled with everyone and their mothers’ weddings, will now be filled with some kid party or another.
Best gifts for newborns and babies
For those without a baby, in official mommy-speak a “baby” refers to a child within the first year of its life, while newborn means the first 3 months. So if your friend just had a baby and fall into this camp, here are some ideas.
Whether they already have a collection of these as-seen-on-IG dolls or not, it’s a feel-good gift that is adorable. For every doll purchased, the company feeds hungry kids, and one thing about new parents is they’re suddenly trying to be like better people so this will tickle them there. You could peruse to see if there’s a doll with the same name or share a birthday with said baby for extra bonus points.
Baby aprons. Seem weird and not every parent has one in the beginning, but when it comes time to feed solids (which happen anywhere from 4-9months) they will come in handy. I love this small business started by a mama.
A weird toy at first glance, but kids love it somehow. Honestly, I kind of love it too in an oddly satisfying ASMR kind of way. Unobtrusive and it’s a great no-sound toy that they can bring with them when they drag their baby to your dinner dates. I would honestly not mind having multiples of this toy because I could have one for the house and the car or something.
Something like this one, doesn’t have to be this exact thing but look for items that have varying materials and make sound. Then say something about “sensory toys are so great at this early age” and the parent will eat that shit up. Don’t worry about the details of what that even means, no one ACTUALLY knows but we just know it’s good.
A lesson in childrens’ books: regular books with paper pages are not very baby friendly because they are monsters with no hand control who will rip everything they see. Board books are smaller books with pages that are, you guessed it, cardboard. The parent has probably covered all the basics like Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear so go for something modern like this one. If you’re feeling fancy you could even gift the big kid version of the same book together as a cute little package.
Best gifts for toddlers (2-3)
Toddlers roughly refer to ages 2-3 ish. They’re probably a little more fun to play with, and maybe they start having a personality… but for the most part they’re likely just hiding behind their parents still when you visit them. Best still to get gifts that are “for them” but parent pleasing.
Even if you don’t go with this option, there are loads on Etsy. Toddler age is when the kid starts to be attached to their name, so it’s a great time for personalized stuff.
Kids. Love. Ramps. Don’t know what it is, but they love rolling shit down and watching it—so any of those marble run type toys will do. This one has cars so it’s pretty cool.
Remember the ball toy from the baby list? This is 2.0, and let me just say: Kids. Love. Balls. Almost as much as ramps, but especially in conjunction with ramps (a good combo gift if you’re trying to go big or going in with someone on it or you have on of those Christmas/Birthday friend babies). These ones are a great size for them to start throwing around and safe enough for kids who are still putting shit in their mouths. You’d be surprised how long that phase lasts.
Okay, another one. KIDS. LOVE. PUPPETS. Especially animal puppets. This is actually a Christmas Santa gift I got for my son because he’s also in that fun age where he does a lot of pretend play, and this is perfect for that as well. Checks all the boxes and you’ll look like a hero.
This sounds weird, but trust me on this. Kids love flashlights for no reason and it’ll be a hit. Include batteries because you don’t want to be that guy.
Another silent toy option that parents will love. We have this one at home and my son LOVES it. Even if someone gifted me a second set I wouldn’t be mad because like the aforementioned Dimpl, I could have one for the car, grandma’s house, whatever.
Let me do a little plug to say that at this toddler age, parents will just about eat up anything you pick up from Lakeshore Learning. It’s a store for teachers with educational toys, and this is the age group when parents are like really concerned whether their kid is memorizing numbers and alphabets adequately or not. The store also does a really good job of keeping the toys fun for kids too, so don’t let the educational bit scare you into thinking you’d be a boring gift giver.
Best gifts for preschoolers (4-5)
Preschoolers are around ages 4-5, and this is when gift giving gets a little easier because they start to become real people with a much more clear personality and likes and wants. You probably have also had some time to hang out with them, so you have a better idea of what to get them. This is also the age when my husband and I start gifting things that are more for them than the parent, i.e. maybe it’s not like super educational or good for them or quiet but we know that the kid will have a blast, so we’ll obnoxiously gift it haha.
If it’s a kid you’ve known for a while but you’re stumped this year, getting them a book in the subject that they enjoy will win them over for sure. Have a dinosaur nut? Get them an encyclopedia of dinosaurs, and so on.
On the off chance that you suddenly befriended someone with a preschool-age kid and you are completely lost, anything from the toddler list will be a good bet, and here are some more crowdpleasers.
This is actually great for toddler age too, but putting it here because it’s a gift that will be a favorite for years. This is one of those gifts that never fail me.
No kid doesn’t like Kinetic Sand, and parents will appreciate it when you pretend to know your shit and say “Yeah and it doesn’t get into your carpet like Play-Doh does!” (insert weird fake TV laugh track here). If you want some extra bonus points, pick up a plastic shoe bin like this at Daiso, and you’ve provided a way for it to be contained too.
Games will start to get fun with this age, and you can put in the bonus of having something to actually do with the kid instead of staring at them awkwardly.
Chances are, even if you know nothing about the kid or the toy inventory at their house, the probability of doubling up on an item is a lot lower with bath toys simply because kids have less of them. This has been a favorite at our house since the boy was a baby, going on 3 years strong, and bath crayons are a hit at any age.