When Auntie gives your five-year-old a Barbie

There were a few comments on this post regarding how to handle others giving your child toys you'd rather they didn't receive. I know parents who avoid Bratz dolls, Barbies, battery-operated toys or play guns. I dislike slutty princesses, poor-quality plastic items, and anything that produces obnoxious sounds. My friends and family have given my kids many fantastic toys, and I've only had reservations about a gift on a few occasions. Naturally, I've developed an approach:

  • Be intentional about what toys you choose for your kids. If you put some thought into your selection of playthings, chances are others will pick up on your preferences. When I'm looking for a gift for someone else's child, I have a fairly good idea what, if any, standards my friends/family have, without them having spelled it out.
  • I've seen a few birthday invitations with a polite request at the bottom that partygoers refrain from bringing certain gifts (e.g. toys related to violence or warfare).
  • You could suggest items your child would appreciate for birthdays or Christmas.  I will admit, I don't supply ideas unless asked; it does feel a bit presumptuous to give an unprompted wishlist. However, I don't fault others for doing so. I like it when mothers give me some idea of what to shop for.
  • Saskia has a Plan dollhouse, and Leif has the PlanCity road and rail system. If people know you have a collection started, they'll likely add to it. And you've made things simpler for them.

So, what if your preventive measures didn't work, and your five-year-old is given the toy you've been carefully passing over for years? This can get a bit tricky. I always appreciate the thoughtfulness and generosity behind a gift, and the recognize that the giver had the best of intentions. So I have never returned a gift, or forbidden my kids to play with it. I do, however, have a few strategies:

  • I don't feel compelled to keep a gift given to my child forever. After a few months, when I find it in the corner of the bedroom, forgotten under a heap of dress up clothes, I might discard it by consigning, trading, donating or disposing of it. Consignment works particularly well, because you can purchase a different toy with the proceeds of the original one.
  • I may put the toys in question in the car as going-out toys. If the Bratz doll is left behind in White Spot, problem solved. When the kids want to take toys to the beach, take the Barbie family.
  • Some I put in the garage as outside toys. I don't worry about them getting lost in the garden, or sitting in the sandbox for weeks on end. And this reduces the number of requests to bring the 'good' toys outside.
  • Any large, unsightly or noisy toys are stowed in the basement.

I realize this system will have to be adjusted as my kids grow older. But for now, for a six-, three- and one-year-old, it works well.