You’ve got a young boy in your life and his birthday is rolling around. Or maybe it’s the holiday season. Either way, you need a gift, and it needs to be a cool gift.
Gift-giving is a test of how well you understand the recipient’s personality. This can be difficult when there’s a large age gap; how on earth is a seasoned adult supposed to understand a 6-year-old?
The truth is that buying gifts for small boys isn’t nearly as difficult as you might expect. Children start developing personalities as soon as they can walk and talk. They have books and television shows they like. They have favorite colors. They already know that they want to be a fireman or a dinosaur when they grow up.
If you’re buying gifts for your own child, think about the interactions you’ve had with him recently. What did he come home from school talking about? Has he mentioned any toys? Is there something you told him “no” about because it was too expensive at the time?
Even if your kid hasn’t asked you for something specific, you can still use his personality to help you shop. Think about whether he’s active, creative, quiet, or social. That favorite color thing is important – when you’re faced with the choice between a blue toy or an orange one, get the one you know he’ll love.
If you’re buying gifts for your nephew or grandson, why not give the kid a call? You can learn a lot from that rambling conversation. Some kids won’t stop talking about a specific topic; that’s a great cue to buy them something related.
Don’t forget to ask the parents what the kid is interested in. They may also have their own preferences they would like you to adhere to.
Gwen Dewar, Ph.D. has written an excellent article about children’s toy preferences that has been posted on Parenting Science. Dewar mentions that many boys actively seek more “male-oriented” toys all on their own. Dinosaurs, cars, sports equipment, and similar items are all the rage with young boys.
In contrast, most parents tend to choose gender-neutral toys like art supplies. That doesn’t mean your kid won’t like such a gift; but if you want to buy something cool, you should get something that the boy would select for himself.
Boys want to be active. An introverted boy might do something “quiet” in a very active way; flipping through pages, building construction sets, and circling every item in the puzzle book can feel very active for the kid. Give them a gift that encourages them to use their minds and their hands as much as possible.
We can’t tell you exactly what to buy for your kid, but we can help you approach shopping with the right philosophy. The better you understand the kid, the easier it will be to find a present.
What Does “Cool” Mean to Boys?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “cool” means hip, casual, nonchalant, and detached.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine don’t know what most of those words mean yet. Their definition of cool is probably less verbal and significantly more image-based.
Boys like things that engage their interests. Some kids love loud noises and bright colors, but others prefer to read and draw. Kids want to be unique, but not too unique; every kid wants to fit in at school.
Your kid has his own definition of cool. If you can find out what it is, gift-giving will be a breeze.
Gifts They Want: Buying Gifts for Your Child’s Personality
Each kid has their own lens through which they see the world. As a parent, it’s your job to help him grow and flourish through that unique lens.
Rebecca Grant from A Fine Parent tells a wonderful story about her son and his love for Halloween. Once she realized that there was nothing wrong with his passion, she was able to help him take an interest in drawing, reading, playing, and learning, all with a little Halloween flair.
Get the boy in your life something related to his interests. Don’t think about the interests you wish he had; think about the interests he actually has.
Kids don’t need to be encouraged to get outside of their box. Instead, they need to be encouraged to make that box as big as possible.
Do Educational Gifts Count as Cool Gifts for Young Boys?
Most toys are educational. They teach kids how to use their hands, think creatively, and imagine real-world scenarios. That play kitchen is an educational toy. So are the blocks, and so is the action figure.
Dana Villamanga over at Toca Magazine says that you should asses a toy for the life skills it promotes. The most important thing is that the kid feels in charge of the experience. It’s their toy.
So, should you buy them a strictly educational toy? It really depends on the kid. Some boys are fascinated with science and would adore a chemistry set. Some boys are more active and would rather you left the “learning” at school.
Remember, it’s about what he wants, not about what you want him to want.
How to Choose a Cool Gift at the Store
Look for a toy that is appropriate to his age, fits in with his interests, and has multiple uses. Kids are very creative with multiple uses, so don’t worry too much; just avoid getting toys that are clearly only for one specific thing. A wooden puzzle will be boring after it’s been solved.
Susan Dichter at LeapFrog suggests buying a toy that is sturdy and well-made. Boys like active play. Buy them a toy that can outlast fake battles and getting thrown across the yard.
Don’t forget to consider what’s popular right now. If there’s a huge display at the front of the store, take a look at it. “Cool” might mean the thing that every other kid at school already owns.
Exploring the World: Gifts for Young Boys Ages 1 – 5
The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends giving very small boys gifts that develop visual and motor skills. As your kid develops, the toys that interest him will change.
Good gifts for small boys are things that they can touch, see, and hear. Look for bright colors and moving parts. Remember to get something that will let your kid test his physical limits. If he can break that small part, it’s not a good gift.
Gifts for toddlers should be imaginative. Ages 2 to 5 are a great time for fake playsets, toy musical instruments, and art supplies.
As your boys get a little older, get them outside toys, too; scooters, sidewalk chalk, and small to medium-sized balls will encourage them to start moving around.
Creativity and Personality: Gifts for Boys Ages 6 – 8
The gift-giving experts over at Gifts.com have a toy-buying guide for kids of every age group. They mention that kids from ages 6 to 8 have a longer attention span. If your kid wants an educational toy, he probably wants it around this age.
A 6, 7, or 8-year-old boy is starting to develop a distinct personality. Foster his interests with a collection book or activity kit. If he’s in love with the athletics, get him a real soccer ball instead of the toddler-sized one he already owns. If he won’t stop talking about dinosaurs, get him a great book about them.
Listen to your kid at this age. He will tell you what he thinks is cool.
The Beginnings of Independence: Gifts for Boys Ages 9 – 12
The tween years are a time of peer pressure. Your kid is nearing middle school. He’s starting to think not just about what he likes, but about whether it’s cool to like that thing.
This is the age when a kid who loves dinosaurs might suddenly say he doesn’t like them anymore. As a parent, be careful in this situation. He might be naturally growing out of a childish phase. He also might be worried that what he loves isn’t good enough for the world.
According to Michael Torrice at LiveScience, passions can’t be forced. Your kid needs space to decide what he likes for himself.
As a gift-giver, continue to foster their interests while giving your kid a vote of confidence in their new self. The experts at Gifts.com recommend problem-solving toys. You should also consider giving them an electronic device like a tablet.
Should I Buy Video Games as a Gift for My Kid?
Boys ages 10-12 may be very interested in video games; this is especially true as they get closer to being a teenager.
Common Sense Media mentions that games like Minecraft can foster creative and collaborative skills. Limit screen time, but let them start to explore the digital world. Those skills will only help them later in life.
A 12-year-old is probably too young for most multiplayer games. Consider the environment at school and the specifics of the game they want to play. If all of their friends are playing the same e-sport, don’t let your kid feel left out. These games develop teamwork and can be an important part of the modern kid’s social life.
Save Your Money: The Gifts for Boys You Shouldn’t Buy
Don’t use a birthday or a major holiday to introduce a kid to a new hobby. Budgets can be tight around Christmas; if you aren’t sure that your kid will love it, don’t waste one of their precious gift slots.
Don’t give a boy something that he wanted three years ago. Kids grow up fast. You might regret missing that opportunity, but keep your mind on presents for the present.
Don’t buy cheap things that will break easily or single-use items. These things are okay as stocking stuffers, but they shouldn’t make up the core of the kid’s gift selection. Give them something they will still have when they’re older.
Don’t buy books as gifts unless your kid has expressed a very strong interest in that subject. Books are great, but many kids view them as educational. If they feel like their holiday was wasted on learning material, they could develop a resentment towards reading that might last a lifetime. Books are also expensive; take them to the library for some free and fun education.
Do buy any of these items as surprise gifts throughout the year. You only get so many birthdays, but you have 364 other days each year without any emotional associations to buy them whatever you’d like.
Your main takeaway from these tips should be that kids have distinct personalities. They know what they like, but they might have a hard time expressing it. Use your adult perception to figure out their interests.
Buy things that are appropriate to your child’s age. Gifts for toddlers should be sensory and fun; try building blocks, musical instruments, and toy cars. Gifts for older kids can be more complicated, but don’t encourage them to grow up too fast.
Buy gifts that your child has asked for. Time passes differently for children; if they mention something in October, they might not remember it by Christmas. But as a parent, you probably remember, so use this chance to surprise them.
Take a look at this YouTube video by Laura Hoyda. She unboxes every gift that she bought her kids for Christmas. Her selections are age-appropriate and focused around what her kids have been asking for.
Her son asked for a drone, so she got it for him. Her youngest children got play food and pretend kitchen items. Laura did some top-tier holiday shopping, and you can use her gifts as inspiration.
Remember that what is “cool” changes wildly between generations. If you have multiple boys that are several years apart, don’t copy the first kid’s childhood for your second son. The toy market will be completely different and you’ll need to find a new definition of popular.
Be thoughtful, considerate, and loving while you shop. Gifts are a way to validate a child, and validation is often something they are desperately looking for.
Treat wish lists seriously. You might not agree with everything the kid has asked for, but at least consider each of the items. If he gives you a long list, pick the items that meet your parenting values from that list.
If a kid says he doesn’t want anything for the upcoming holiday, think about why he might say that. He might feel afraid to ask you for the thing he really wants.
If you’ve said “no” a lot lately, try saying “yes” a few times to help him relax. Your kid shouldn’t feel like he has to choose between pleasing you and getting what he wants for his birthday.
Try taking your kid to the store before the gift-giving occasion. Use the excuse of buying a small toy “just because” to get him into the toy section. From there, pay attention to the items he interacts with. You should also notice the items that he wistfully gazes at but doesn’t feel confident asking you for.
A kid who has siblings might be very open with them about his interests. Feel free to ask, but remember that each kid lives in their own world. They might give you an idea that they personally want but which their brother isn’t too interested in owning.
Consider fandom-related items, but only buy these things if the kid has expressed an interest. Some boys adore comic books and really want a related action figure. Other boys only kind of like a television show and don’t really want a poster. These items are personality defining, so let your kid take the wheel on the decision.
If all else fails, directly ask the kid for a wish list. Some kids are just waiting for the opportunity to open up and tell you about their dream toy. With that said, you should also get a related gift that isn’t on their wish list, just to show that you can still surprise them.
Many boys take exceptionally good care of their toys. If you buy something high-quality, it could last into their teenage or adult years. Help give them a memory; their adult self will appreciate the nostalgia.
Think hard about your kid’s personality. Use what you’ve learned here to choose an age-appropriate gift that you know they will love. Encourage their development and remember that each age passes quickly. Cool gifts for young boys aren’t necessarily cool gifts for older ones.
Most of all, remember that cool gifts are fun. Enjoy the shopping experience; it’s a privilege to buy something for a child you care about. This memory will be important to them for the rest of their life.