I know how you feel. I used to be there. I was the non-parent, child-loving family friend who just wanted to bring or send something fun to my littlest friends. So I KNOW you mean well. Now being on the receiving side of gifts for young children, my perspective has changed a bit. As a person who lives outside the residence of the child in question, you have some extra power and some added responsibility. You have the power to destroy, in one generous act, months of work on behalf of said child's parents. You have the power to reinforce what said child's parents have been working toward. You have the power to destroy the day by bringing something that the child can't have, thereby inflicting a day of tantrums on everyone. So you have the responsibility of thinking carefully about your choice of gifts. Luckily though you know the parents and are able to call or text for feedback before showing up with a potential happiness-ending bomb of a gift.
To help you a little, I put together a short list of things you should at least consider not bringing OR get feedback on before just showing up with them in hand.
1. Toys or Food that contain allergens.
So many kids are so allergic to so many things that this can be daunting list. The best thing to do is check with parents so they can alert you to a potential problem. When it comes to food for children under 3, unless I know the family, and child intimately, I avoid gifting it all together. Even when I do, I always check by sending a picture of the ingredient list ahead of time. Examples of things you might not realize contain allergens are:
* Play dough- contains wheat which also contains gluten. For the gluten sensitive, it may not be a problem unless the child is young enough that they are likely to try to eat it.
* Cookies- may contain wheat, milk, eggs, and nuts (tree nuts and peanuts). All increasingly common allergens.
* Candy- may contain, wheat, milk, nuts, and artificial colors
* Ice-pops- may contain milk, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners. Also may be a choking risk depending on the child
2. Toys that are, contain or resemble weapons.
Many parents try to keep their children, especially boys, from being exposed too early to aggressive play. Mind you, not everyone does, so the parents of said child may be just fine with the water gun, glow-in-the-dark sword, pirate ship with cannon etc. But if the parents AREN'T ok with it, you put them in a position of having to make a game time decision about whether to let you subvert their attempts to keep their child playing non-aggressively or to wrestle the toy from the arms of the now screaming child while trying hard to explain why they feel it just isn't appropriate.
3. Toys that play canned music.
Personally, this one doesn't bother me but I have friends who lose their mind having to listen to canned music or sound effects from electronic toys for little ones. The worst are the kind that start and do not stop on their own. Inevitably, their child is going to turn it on and then walk away, leaving the sound to drill a hole in their parents' brains (what little is left after the sleep deprivation of the first year). This is especially maddening when they turn on 3 or more of these toys all playing music or sounds that conflict.
4. Toys that are meant for older children.
Every toy that is sold has a recommended age range that the manfuacturer and their lawyers have determined is developmentally appropriate. That doesn't mean that every toy that says it's for a child ages 3+ is wrong for said child who is just turning 2. Our child grew out of mouthing toys early so we were able to allow him to play ( while supervised) with chokable toys such as regular sized legos. However, we have recieved toys that were way beyond his ability to enjoy them which generally results in the toy being broken within hours of being received. This causes emotional strife. So if it's a close call or you think the child can handle it, drop the parent a text confirming it's a good idea.
5. Toys that can destroy the house.
Paint, stickers that don't re-peel, and markers are a few that I can think of. Once again, these are things I am perfectly fine with but that I avoid giving other people. There are kinds of stickers that will not stick permanently to furniture or peel paint . There are markers and paints that only show up on special paper. This is a better idea but them it lock the parents into continually stocking special ( read expensive) paper so that their child can make art on a moment's notice.
6. Toys that require screen time.
Many parents are trying the darndest to adhere to the AAP recommendation that children under 3 have no screen time. Personally, we just tried our best to keep it to a minimum. For parents who are attempting this very daunting task, it is incredibly stressful to have their child presented with a leap frog laptop, a set of DVDs or other such screen oriented toys. This also results in parents being put in the position of making a big deal out of taking it away or just letting the gift destroy their months of labor coming up with enough non-screen time activities to keep their child engaged while they make dinner, use the bathroom etc. So it's best to find out where the parents stand on this before making the purchase.
So I hope I've made it clear that none of these things are absolute nevers. But they are things to think carefully about...if you want to stay friends with said child's parents, that is. I hope I have helped some parent out there avoid a tantrum filled day caused by exactly the wrong gift for THEIR child. And I hope I've helped you run the "what-to-buy" gauntlet of gifting to a child.