Monday, July 11, 2011


How to Buy the Perfect Gift for Your Niece or Nephew

When buying a gift for your niece or nephew, you need to follow a few important guidelines. Clothes (too useful), video games (too boring for you), and any living creature (no explanation needed) are out. Also, try to steer clear of anything that is collectable, such as Yu-Gi-Oh!, Webkinz, or — heaven forbid — anything to do with Magic the Gathering, as these kind of things are simply too cruel to all parties involved. To get the maximum enjoyment, and thus the greatest return on your investment, you will need to think strategically and identify something that walks that thin line between being totally fun for kids and completely aggravating to the grown-ups (i.e. your siblings) who have to live with them full time.

Ideally, these items will fall into one or more of the following categories: things that are messy, things that are mildly destructive, and (the very best) things that make some sort of noise.

Time permitting, go to the toy store and test these objects out yourself. But, life is busy and sometimes a birthday sneaks up on you, so fortunately, there is no shortage of suitable gifts available online — and you can even have them shipped overnight with the batteries so thoughtfully included, meaning your beloved little ones can start playing with whatever diabolical selection you’ve made as soon as possible. Your siblings will really appreciate this gesture.

For newbies, here's a list of my favorite suggestions:

Star Wars™ Light Sabers (with sound!)
Stomp Rockets
Scientific Explorer's Disgusting Science – A Kit for Studying the Science of
Revolting Things

Radio Disney Jams: Top Hits Vol. 2 by Hannah Montana, Ashley Tisdale, The
Cheetah Girls and Raven-Symone

Lego Ultimate Building Set
A very thick book of knock-knock jokes (bonus points if given before a long car ride
• My very own late-1980s-era Yamaha electronic keyboard with percussion pad
The Clarke Tin Whistle: Deluxe Edition Book & CD
Melissa and Doug Band in a Box

Be warned, your revenge-crazed siblings may begin teaching their children to say the darndest things, like, “Aunt Kate, why don’t you have a grown-up lady’s body?” and “I don’t think writer counts as a real job.” Take it in stride. After all, just like those lovely gifts you’ve purchased, the kids are headed elsewhere soon enough.

Kate Noonan is a freelance writer from Baltimore, which in case you haven't heard, is the new Brooklyn.

Photo via Flickr

64 Comments / Post A Comment


Stomp Rockets are AMAZING. I have given those to my little cousins, and they adore them. I also recommend one of those helicopters that can actually fly in the air, EVEN THOUGH I got hit in the eye by one that my then 7 year old cousin was flying. It was still awesome.

I also recommend the Melissa and Doug easel with lots of paints. Or the Melissa and Doug (I love those two) dollhouse (made of wood) with lots of paints -- and mess with those gender stereotypes, buy one for the boys too. I bought a wooden dollhouse for my then 5 year old boy cousin, and my grandmother was all "!!!" about it, and then he totally loved it and played with it all the time and she ended up making him little rugs out of old towels for it.


gah, this is just mean!


You've left out the ever-important category of lots of tiny pieces. Our families have neatly divided up the respective domains to: really repetitively loud (there are books with buttons that yell at you!), lots and lots of pieces (trains, cars in multi-packs, multiple sets of blocks) and messy. We play with them all, step on them frequently in the dark in bare feet, and silently plot our revenge.


@spitfire i like to call the tiny pieces gift category, "shit that will clog up your vaccum. ha-ha."


It's really hard to buy gifts for babies because they are just SO BORING. But once they hit five, it's ON.


@parallel-lines (unless they keep having more babies, which means you can't buy anything with small/moving pieces, and man, you are just ruining all my fun)

Tuna Surprise

Heresy! My three year old niece loves playing kitchen. This means I get to buy minature kitchen-things and play with them while she isn't looking. Throw in a dose of self-pity because my parents never bought me these things plus a bottle of wine and you have a grand day out with Aunt Tuna.


@parallel-lines: My go-to baby gift is old dry-cleaning bags.


@Tuna Surprise I used to play with my cousin's little girl in her toy kitchen and the number on the cordless phone was 867-5309, which never ceased to amuse.


Thank you for the new ideas for my nephew's birthday. But you forgot Bop-It, which may be the best one I've given yet.

apples and oranges

Or if you were me as a little kid, you just wanted books all the time, driving your aunt to eventually ask, half joking and half dead serious, "don't you ever want anything besides BOOKS?"
Even now, I very rarely want not-a-book.

But also - CRAFTY THINGS. One of the best gifts I ever got was a make-your-own-mummy set. My dad and I built a tomb out of scrap wood and I painted the hell out of it. The kit had a little doll and gauze and canopic jars for you to put the clay guts in. I freaking loved it.


@kayarr I loved the crafty/build your own gifts best, too--from jewelry to little model cars. And my parents always did them with me, so I think they liked the family time aspect of them.

but seriously, the best things are LEGOS. kids always go bananas for legos.


@kayarr Books = the stand-by gift for me from relatives from age 6 to now!

Julie Whitaker@facebook

NPR did a great podcast on introducing pop culture to kids, with tons of great suggestions on books, TV shows, movies, comics, and music. I bought my nephew the first season of the Muppet Show based on their advice, and he loves it.


Carrot Cake

Thank you! My sibling in-laws are really shitty to me, so instead of punishing my niece, I'm going to make a habit of buying presents that are loud and/or extremely messy. Perfect.


@CarrotCake My sister is Deaf, so I tend to buy really loud things for my nieces since it won't bother her. But her neighbors probably want to murder "cool aunt from NYC" so very bad.



There is no auntie more beloved than the one who leans over the crib and says sweetly, "when you are three I will buy you a drum."

Musical instruments are the best -- kids love to make noise, but they might actually learn to play for real at some point, and no responsible parent wants to quash that impulse, so heh, heh, noisy toy wins!


@CarrotCake Make sure that you give them to the kid in person, though, and don't just mail it. Because otherwise, that fun messy loud present will go to Goodwill.


@CarrotCake This, I feel, is the entire point of gift giving to nieces and nephews. If you don't hate your in-laws, at least you can use this as an opportunity to get back at all the shit your siblings put you through as a kid.


@City_Dater My mom bought drums for both of her brothers' kids. I think the only reason that she could do this was that she was already done having her kids.


@thebestjasmine Also, I will say that the picture that I took that Christmas of one of those kids opening the drum set and the moment that he realized that it was drums is still my favorite picture ever of that kid.

Barbara Gordon

Nerf guns. Always Nerf guns. Provided: 1. That the kid is not an only child, in which case the only target would be a parent; 2. That you buy one for the sibling also; 3. That all Nerf-gun wielders are old enough to know better.


@Barbara Gordon supersoakers.

Barbara Gordon

@becky@twitter For all summer birthdays.


@Barbara Gordon and if your siblings are being supershitty to you, the kid gets the new model that shoots water out like a cannon.


Also good are large amounts of sugar. Case in point, the World's Largest Gummy Bear: http://www.vat19.com/dvds/worlds-largest-gummy-bear.cfm?adid=gbase


@QuiteAimable My boss brings the giant lollipops that are the size of your head to all family-type events. Then he laughs and laughs and laughs.


You are so right on the sibling retaliation. My adorable niece has said that I live in a dangerous neighborhood and smell like my cat. She's basically memorized my sister's script. Also, "when are you getting married?" is on permanent rotation.

Jennifer Lawinski@facebook

Don't forget the mini pianos!

raised amongst catalogs

I sent my nieces and nephew a Mystery Box of Fun (a compilation of things I found in the Archie McPhee catalog), including wasabi lip balm, fake mustaches, a squirrel-sized pair of underpants and bacon-flavored mints. I suggest doing something similar if you want to be the Cool Aunt To End All Cool Aunts.

Barbara Gordon

@vanillawaif My aunt sent us an amazing box one Christmas that she marked from "Hairy and David". It included those bacon mints, mini rubber-band guns, whoopie cushions, spray cheese and knock-off Triskets, glow sticks, sea monkeys, and a Beverly Hillbillies DVD.

raised amongst catalogs

@Barbara Gordon I'm proud to be in a category with such a nice-sounding lady.


@Barbara Gordon: I sent my mother a potato gun for her birthday once. She took it to work (with a potato) and used it to shoot pellets at an annoying co-worker.

Pound of Salt

Waiting for Brooklyn (MD) to be the new Brooklyn. That's when Baltimore becomes Manhattan and uh, Dundalk is Queens? IDK

apples and oranges

@Pound of Salt hahaha


In case anyone out there does NOT hate their siblings and is looking for a present for their young niece or nephew, check out these coloring books by Taro Gomi.

They are AMAZING! They're huge, and instead of just having kids color in pictures, they direct kids to add their own details and ideas. I sent one to my five-year old godson, and he and his mom love it! I am actually thinking of getting one for myself...


@wee_ramekin My boyfriend bought me those for Christmas a few years back, and I love them! And I'm a grownup!

RK Fire

Crap, if Baltimore is the new Brooklyn... you know what? I just can't cope with that thought at all. Maybe more of our good bands will stay in Baltimore then?

/native Marylander+former BCPSS student+current Baltimore resident


@RK Fire http://youtu.be/H8HRTTUiko4 from a Chicago band :)


When I was a kid, my dad and my uncle had a competition going for most awesome/irritating-to-the-other-parent christmas present. It went something like this:
Uncle buys us: Giant inflatable dinosaurs
My dad buys my cousins: plastic electric guitars
Uncle retaliates with: Chemistry set
Dad one-ups him with: ant farm
my mom and my aunt then basically cut them off, but it was definitely a good run while it lasted :)

Katie Walsh

HAAAAA As the aunt to a 9 and 6 year old and sister to a mom who wants her children to only play with wooden toys (yes, dear reader, she dictates the items the grand and stepgrandparents are allowed to buy for Christmas) this made me laugh out loud. Completely lost it at Radio Disney Jams CD.


Alternate title, "I am not buying you one of those god damned American Girls* dolls" after your gift of hand made, hand painted mid century Finnish wood blocks is rejected harshly.

*interchangeable with Bratz/Disney princess/Cheetah Girls/Barbie

Daisy Razor

Ha. I am the mother who has already bought her kid two drums and the Band in a Box. If you really want to work my nerves, buy Baby Razor one of those "educational" toys that says the same five phrases in a high, whiny voice over and over and over.

I used to buy tongue twister books like Fox In Socks to torture my sister, who had to read them to her kids.


@Daisy Razor runny babbit by shel silverstein. LONGEST bedtime book EVER!

Kelli Marks

I live by these rules! Every gift for the last years for my nephews makes noise and occasionally lights up. I consider it the reminder that she shouldn't have had a kid at 19. Last year the youngest got a car that lights up/horn honks and talks. I think it repeats what the kid says. Plus, I got it on some Ebay special with free shipping. Love.


I hope I never get too old for the aunt & uncle who always give me a hundred bucks at Christmas and birthdays. When does that stop?

Melissa Von Rocksaton@facebook

I COULD HAVE WRITTEN THIS ARTICLE. I buy gifts for the nephews/nieces for the express purpose of making them love me and annoying my sisters. For the older ones, I try to find things that are intellectually stimulating as well--and toy companies have been obliging me recently with truckloads of science stuff that is some combination of gross/loud/messy/AWESOME. My go-to for the oldest nephew is anything insect-related, because boys love bugs and moms hate them. TOO MUCH FUN.


don't hate on magic the gathering!! :-P


I had just graduated high school and my nephew had just finished kindergarten so we were out shopping for a little gift for him. He runs to the toy aisle and shouts for the entire world to hear "since you don't have a job but you have ten dollars - can you buy me this pokemon?!" oh ho ho ho...kids today!


Can I put in a good word for Monster High dolls? I know that they look kind of Bratz-y, but I promise that none of them are baby prostitutes! If you have a girl in your life who insists on getting a doll for a present, MH is a good, kind of nerdy (all of the characters are based on classic movie monsters) alternative to Barbies. Everything is also relatively wholesome compared to a lot of other series that are aimed at young girls.


@Pound of Salt What does that make Glen Burnie then?

ample pie

No, guys, I got this.

What you need are Kinder Surprise eggs. Which cost like a euro each. But they are chocolate eggs with a toy inside. And kids love them. Every time I go to Europe, I bring my nephews some; I gave the three-year-old and the six-year-old one just Saturday and they pretty much adored them.


In Amsterdam, I found ones that were Barbie-themed, Cars-themed, Toy Story-themed, you name it.

Note: Really, seriously, probably not for kids who are under 3 or 4 (you know your nieces and nephews, you be the judge).

Also, they are illegal in the U.S. So there is that.

happy go lucky scamp

@ample pie what/ Kinder Suprise eggs are illegal in the US?

My boyfriend still buys me one for my birthday - i love them. Chocolate + toy!
Why would they possibly be illegal. You can buy them everywhere in Australia.


@sparkles They are illegal because the government assumes that we Americans are too dumb to eat chocolate with a toy in the middle without choking on said toy.

ample pie

@sparkles Borrella is right. There is an actual law that actually says that you cannot put non-edible things inside edible things.

They will take Kinder Surprise away from you at the border.

America: chocolate eggs with a toy inside no, guns yes!

ample pie

@Borrelia Burgdorferi

The other day I went to TJ Maxx and there was a sign on the door saying that they were recalling some children's outfit because there were buttons on it that could come off and present a choking hazard.

I mean, buttons? Yes, they can come off, and yes, you can choke on them, but a recall? Whatever happened to sewing them on more securely? Or just don't buy outfits for babies with buttons?

I explained this to my boss, who is from Latin America, and she asked what they did with the recalled clothes, if they sewed the buttons on better and returned them. I told her they probably incinerated them, and she was horrified.


@ample pie: B-b-b-but I've seen them here! (Notably, at the import store down the street from me.) Is it a state-by-state thing?


@ample pie WHAT IS YOUR ADDRESS??!!


WHAT. Magic the Gathering is epic.


@thegreatsardini - yes, yes it is, but it is the wrong kind of annoying to be a truly great niece/nephew present. Not gonna lie, though, if I'm at the toy store picking up a present for my niece, I'll grab a booster pack for myself.


I just got the awesomest gifts for my bf's niece! I'm a chronic overgifter and she turned 12, so I got her the first two books in a long and challenging series and her very first lip gloss. Also some weird vanilla hand cream because that's like crack to 12 year old girls. I thought it smelled nast but she was like *sniiiiiiff* "oooooh I love vanilla!" *sniiiiiff* so I knew I did good.


My sister gives my kids Loud toys and I give her kids Messy toys. We are at a draw right now with my latest gift of Moon Sand vs. her light & motion-activated barking dog (lasts 2 minutes!)

Harriet Welch M@facebook

Damn! My philosophy on gift giving has always been noise and messes. I love to think about all of the obnoxious, mean things my brother did for me before I shop for his FOUR children :)
Last year, I got them a whole Band in a Box music set with hand drums, maracas, tambourines, rhythm sticks etc. Then I got each of them a paint your own thing kit. Complete with enough glue, glitter, stickers, paint and whatnot to kill a horse.
Also NEVER give something with batteries unless the kids basically own the parents. Any parent worth their salt will just take the batteries out of the toy after, like, a minute. Ex: Hokey pokey Elmo should have driven my brother to suicide. It got through one verse of the song and then its batteries were removed.


Do not give my child toys. Give me the money instead.

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