5 tips for picking gifts for your child

By The Understood Team

At a glance

  • It’s important to consider your child’s strengths, challenges, and interests when choosing presents.

  • Try to avoid using holiday gifts as an incentive for good behavior.

  • Giving fewer gifts can help make the holiday more manageable.

Gift-giving with kids is a balancing act. You want it to be fun but meaningful, festive but not chaotic. Certain learning and thinking differences can create extra challenges for some kids. But these five strategies can help you make choosing and giving gifts a more joyous experience for everyone.

Strategy #1: See your “whole” child.

Kids can view gifts as a reflection of how people see them. This is a good opportunity to think about your child outside of everyday learning and attention challenges. Who is your child as a person? What inspires your child or gives the most pleasure? The gifts you give can communicate that you “get” your child.

It’s important to do that with siblings, too. You don’t have to give an even amount or the same type of gift to each child. Acknowledging that they’re different people can make each one feel special — and it can help reduce sibling tension during the holidays.

Strategy #2: Play to each child’s interests and strengths.

Memorize this gift-giving equation:

Child’s interest + child’s ability = great present!

The best gifts are a good fit for what kids are currently able to do, what they’re interested in, and what they find fun. This means you might not want to rely on the age guidelines listed on toys.

A building set listed for “Age 6 and up” might not necessarily be a good fit for a first-grader with . But for a first-grader who has strong fine motor skills and loves to build, it could be a great fit.

Be prepared in case your child reacts to the age on the box. If your child looks at the guidelines and says, “I’m too old for this,” you can explain that “and up” means “and older than.”

Strategy #3: Avoid turning gifts into work.

The holidays can be a welcome break from working on challenges — for both parents and kids. Loading up on presents designed to bolster skills might be an unwelcome reminder that there’s always more work to be done.

That doesn’t mean you have to entirely shy away from gifts that help kids learn, however. For example, consider choosing games that can help improve executive functioning skills, video games that help teens build reasoning skills, or board games that sneak in math.

Gift certificates to local businesses can be beneficial presents, too. For example:

  • Passes to a local indoor trampoline park for a child with
  • Movie tickets for a child with to the book-turned-film that all the kids at school raved about
  • A private build-a-stuffed-animal session for a child with motor skills issues

Strategy #4: Limit the gift haul.

The holidays are cause for excitement. For some kids with learning and thinking differences, all the excitement may be too much to handle. That can include kids with or . Less can be more when it comes to gift-giving.

One way to help kids maintain control? Reduce the number of gifts each child receives. Some parents find it helpful to follow a simplified gift formula for each child. For example:

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

Whether or not this specific present lineup works for your family, consider shortening the gift-opening process — or being open to taking breaks — to reduce tantrums and meltdowns.

Strategy #5: Don’t use presents as a bargaining chip.

Avoid using holiday presents as an incentive for good behavior, such as saying things like “If you’re really good, maybe Santa will bring you that bike you wanted.” Or “If you don’t sit still in the car, forget about getting a lot of gifts this year.”

For young kids, and particularly those with attention issues like ADHD, it’s more helpful to focus on short-term rewards and consequences. These can have a bigger impact on their behavior and won’t risk putting a negative spin on the holidays.

Choosing gifts that work for your child is just one way to help make the holidays successful. View this holiday planner if your child has sensory processing issues. And learn how to create family traditions that fit your child’s strengths.

Key takeaways

  • When picking gifts for your child, you may not want to rely on the age guide on toys.

  • Consider limiting the number of gifts you give each child.

  • Avoid turning gifts into “work.” Try not to load up on presents that are designed for skillbuilding.

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    About the author

    About the author

    The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.