playing with jacks and a ball as a child. “So, if a child
is into Legos or an erector set, you might consider
buying a toy that will mesh well with the child’s present interests, such as a toy car or Lego truck.”
Direct approach (the wrong way)
As a father of five, I wondered if asking children
what they want for a gift directly might yield even
better results than asking their parents. So I phoned
home. Emmett, my 11-year-old son, answered.
“I’m writing a story about buying toys for children, and I need your advice,” I told him.
“Oh, well, that’s easy,” he answered. “Just buy the
kid whatever he asks for, if you can afford it.”
“OK, buddy, what do you want for Christmas?”
I asked, seizing the opportunity to test Auerbach’s
“Well … maybe a Star Wars blaster gun,” he said.
“Really?” I asked, knowing that he’s been pining
away for an artist’s light table on which to perfect his
undying love of cartooning.
“Yeah, or maybe a new video game,” he said.
While I’m sure he would enjoy the gifts he suggested,
they certainly were not things he’s been talking about
lately, like the light table. I tried the direct approach
with my other kids with the same result (except
for my 5-year-old daughter, Tess, who always wants
more lip gloss). I’m a believer now. Since children
tend to freeze up when you ask them what they want
directly, it’s best to do your homework in other ways.
Go window shopping
Instead of asking children what they want point-blank, Auerbach suggests taking children “research”
shopping. And if you don’t live close enough to take
them to a store, she says, virtual shopping, an online
shopping spree, can be very useful. Why? Because television commercials and marketing materials often
exaggerate toys’ capabilities, it’s best to let children
discover them firsthand (or virtually firsthand).
Research shopping comes with a warning: “When
you go to look at toys [or visit Web sites] together,
make sure they understand that you are not going to
buy anything right then, but that you just want to
look,” Auerbach says. “And ask them questions such
as ‘Tell me what you like about this,’ and ‘What else
do you like?’”
Auerbach says the resultant wish list will show
you not only what children like, but also what t hey
are influenced by, enabling you to achieve the goal
of buying toys and gifts that dovetail with their
interests and with the toys they already own.
Determine family values
Walsh notes another important advantage
of asking children’s parents about gifts. Quizzing
them gives you vital information about family
values and the parents’ sensibilities.
“Toys that seem harmless to a well-meaning
aunt or uncle, such as a toy gun, can be taboo to
parents,” Walsh says. He says the same is true of
high-tech “toys” such as iPods. While a 6-year-old
may be fascinated with these gadgets, his or her parents may want their kids to stay kids for as long as
possible and may feel such gifts are more appropriate for teenagers.”
See an archive profile of
Dr. Toy in the November
Online Edition. Go to
costco.com and click on
Other points to ponder
Walsh says another importa nt
consideration is the well-being
of the child. “For instance,
childhood obesity is a growing epidemic in our society,”
says Walsh. “If a child you’re
buying for might be at risk,
perhaps that video game is not
the best choice. Think Wiffle
ball or Frisbee! There are even
great games like Twister Moves [a
game in which kids twist and dance to music]
that get kids off the couch and moving.”
Szymanski, Walsh and Auerbach unanimously
agree that gender stereotypes (boys prefer physical
activity, girls prefer tea parties) influence poor toy-buying decisions because children are individuals.
Each felt that there is no substitute for knowing,
or gathering info, about the child or children on
your list. C
Planes, trains and
automobiles are gifts
that dovetail perfectly
with some childrens’
YOU GOT the dates on your calendar mixed up and now you’re in the
toy section, frantically looking for a
last-minute birthday gift for a child.
Between panic-stricken breaths into
a paper bag, you find a toy-expert
hot line. Here’s how each of the
experts interviewed for this article
would answer your hysterical call.
“When in doubt, stick to the
classics, such as Play-Doh, Crayola
crayons, Monopoly, Clue and
Mr. Potato Head. There’s a
reason some of these toys
have been around for 50, 60 and
75 years!”—Tim Walsh
“Books, books and more books!
Find a subject the child enjoys and
add a big chocolate bar to the gift
“Don’t feel like you actually
have to buy a gift at a store. Gift
certificates from stores allow the
child choices and save parents the
trouble of returning a hastily
bought gift.”—Stevanne Auerbach