Is a birthday present necessary?

Here's a fairy-sized pipe or bubble blower - perhaps not the right gift for a soon-to-be 11 year old?

This blog post is by Nicola Baird sharing ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children. This post is a plea for help – do I really have to buy a birthday present for a child who inherits her big sister’s everything, and doesn’t even know what she wants for her 11th birthday? For more info about gifts – giving and receiving – see my book Homemade Kids, with lots of ideas about parenting, click here.

I know, this post’s title “is a birthday present necessary” sounds a cruel question, but my 10 year old, Nell, isn’t sure what she wants for her fast approaching 11th birthday. My feeling is that this will be the last birthday she has when she isn’t clamouring for things – and we should take advantage of that.  After all, the moment a child goes to secondary school there’s a sudden leap in acquisitiveness. Next birthday I’m certain that she’ll be wanting a particular type of shoe, outfit or gadget.

Her dad thinks we should get Nell something. I’m not so sure.

Our sitting room is full of toys, many bought at car boot sales, or given to her. And she still plays with them, just. Although Nell’s current favourite is a round slice from a Christmas tree base, found in the road where it had been put out for the dustman. I rescued it for the log burner, but Nell reckons it makes a perfect theatre for her collection of plastic toy dogs. That’s creative, often buying toys seems to stop the creativity.

As ever with children, it’s not always toys that they want. It’s just that us adults often fail to understand this. We buy, because we know how to do it.

Interestingly the Frugal Dad blog in the US published a piece on the strange rise in toy buying. And it’s all thanks to the economic recession… it makes us spoil our kids with new toys. Here is the post.

Back to the dilemma: the choices are darts board (why???), pogo stick (hard to use) or more Sylvanians (this girl has enough). I’m tempted to give her riding lessons (her Christmas present), or another skill developer (like skating lessons), but first have to battle with dad Pete about what he thinks is appropriate. He’s big on unwrapping... To be honest, Nell is too.

Over to you
What would you do? Get a gift or wrap up a chocolate bar knowing there’s some money saved up for when the birthday girl really needs something (rather than has a seasonal want).

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5 Comments on “Is a birthday present necessary?”

  1. hedgehoghugh Says:

    My sympathies – I have been having a similar discussion with my wife for a long time – arguing that ‘as they are so small, can we just forget xmas this year’ … and losing. Because it is not just about you and it is not just about the children – there are other people involved who want to feel like they are giving something … and the lesson from this is to make sure that there is LESS given during the year so that the problem is less severe at the crunch times of birthday and xmas … a lesson this is that I have failed to get very far with …. but – for now – two other ideas …
    Books … Mati (9) got complete set of Famous Five and was delighted. Books are good because they solve the ‘problem’ of the present and also make parents feel like they are doing something good.
    Premium Bonds … less exciting, maybe …. but one close relative of ours only ever gives very token birthday presents … and a slab of money into the bonds. Last birthday was a great hit with very good set of felt tip pens and a stack of paper.
    good luck – and Happy Birthday Nell x

  2. nicola baird Says:

    This is from Pete (Nell’s dad): Look forward to you explaining this to Nell!

  3. homemadekids Says:

    I think Nell would like felt pens. My hesitance is that they are hard to dispose of when they run out. I’ve tried filling plastic bottles with them to use as rattles for younger children. But there’s a limit to how many people I know who would accept these as gifts (!). Although it could be fun to give to a nursery as a spontaneous act of generosity (aka tidying up).

  4. homemadekids Says:

    Sent by email: “Great post – it is always a challenge to know when we are giving kids something they want, or whether we feel obligated to give. I’ve always heard that experiences are a much better gift than a thing, and I think that’s true. I like your idea of giving her a new skill. Maybe a compromise: buy her a cheaper pair of skates (there are great second-hand sports stores) and a few months of lessons. That way she can unwrap them, but also have the experience of learning. Best, Diana”

    Diana – Nell and I have been reading White Boots by Noel Stretfeild and I think she might love this suggestion. Thanks. Nicola

  5. nicola baird Says:

    Via Facebook: Zoe: “Hi Nicola – am thinking of presents and thoughts so far r:
    1 A photo album / scrapbook or video of her first decade.
    2 Or a pen knife / tool box or sewing kit so she can make things for her Sylvanians or theatre.
    3 Pip’s 5th birthday present was a flying lesson – both kids hadn’t been in a plane before – and then they got to be the pilots – my Dad has a pilot license and can fly 4 seater planes – not very green but probably wasn’t much more fuel than a 4×4. The photos show total glee. Hope this helps.”

    from Christian: “Birthday presents? Not necessary but nice to have. For the girl who has everything – how about a special trip somewhere or a lifetime’s (ok – annual) subscription to Moshi Monsters?”

    Nicola’s reply – “Nell would love the Moshi Monsters but it’d drive me crazy so not good for household harmony. You clearly know what Nell likes though! Tnx for suggestion.”


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