26/11/2014 16:11 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Young Children And Presents: Should We Even Bother?

Young child playing with a cardboard boxRex Features

Present giving at children's birthdays and Christmas has become a tense time for me. Each time a celebration is in the offing, I know that I will have to navigate disappointed children, family politics, strained friendships and a houseful of plastic flashing animals with spinning heads.

The market is saturated with ever more weird and wonderful all singing and dancing toys that can do just about anything. But in my experience kids just do not play with these things.

Instead they like to make their own fun with the random stuff lying around such as laundry baskets, duvets, stale bread crusts and masking tape.

Well-meaning friends and relatives buy these things for my children, and look on expectantly as the presents are unwrapped. More often than not, the kids play with their new toy for five minutes, if that, before casting it aside in favour of making a ball or a house out of the packaging.

To add insult to injury you then have to go through the rigmarole of writing thank you cards for unwanted gifts. So you spend the weeks leading up to Christmas writing cards and wrapping presents and then the weeks after Christmas writing and sending more cards, and stuffing unwanted presents into bin liners. But if you don't write the thank you cards, you store up trouble for yourself down the line. It's all a total nightmare.


As for this idea of small children needing to have a 'big present'. Surely there is no correlation between the cost of a present and the degree of pleasure a child will get from it?


Young children don't have a perception of cost - although I do understand that this tends to change as they get older. I would be naive to think that a 10-year-old would be content with just a cardboard box and some sellotape to play with.

Sarah, a mum of two young children, wholeheartedly disagrees with me. She says that the big present is an absolute must. She lives for the look on her kid's faces when they open up their life-sized electronic car, or their three storey wendy house, and that not to give a big expensive present is a form of cruelty and deprivation.

I reckon a bag of pipe cleaners and pack of blu tack is far more gratefully received than a flashing robot that does everything including taking pictures, shooting video, and teaching your child how to speak Mandarin.

I speak from bitter experience here. I once bought a beautiful wooden tea shop with little wooden cakes and a wooden till. My kids just don't play with it. They would much rather make their own shop out of a fire-guard and some blankets, and make cakes out of all the flowerheads in my garden. Meanwhile my husband often finds me dusting the tea shop, arranging the wooden cakes beautifully, and sorting out all the play money in the till.

One mum told me that the anticipation of presents is often as special as the presents themselves, so that makes the whole thing worth it. This is fair enough. I would go further than this and say that the anticipation of all the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree, and the shaking of the boxes to work out what's in them, far outweighs the actual present inside.

But why not justify the children's anticipation by providing carefully pre-selected presents that you know your children will like?


Or failing that, why not open all the dodgy presents beforehand, remove the flourescent iguanas with built-in radio mics, and wrap up the boxes again with just the bubble wrap, polystyrene and foam chips inside?


And so, in an attempt to combat the problem of copious amounts of unwanted gifts that will clutter my house, and then inevitably end up in charity shops and then sit in landfill for hundreds of years, I have become highly regimented about the toys that enter our house. I now tell people exactly what to buy for my children.

Not only does my new approach avoid unwanted items but it also gets around the problem of duplicates. (One Christmas my daughter received THREE toy cookers, none of which she plays with.) Another advantage of pre-approved presents is avoiding the risk that your child will love some hellish item which you are then obliged to share your house with.

This highly sensible approach has not gone down well in some quarters. One family member accused me of 'taking away the magic', while friends have got upset with me because they want the joy of going out and choosing a 'surprise' present for my children.

But I'm going to stick to my guns. Now I just need to find a way to make people actually stick to the list, and avoid an offensive object, destined for landfill, ending up under my tree.

Do you agree? Do young children simply not appreciate expensive big presents?
Do you instruct relatives exactly what to get or have you given in to the sea of florescent all singing all dancing plastic?