Look, I get it. Kids are a confusing, terrifying, frightening entity. They’re also entirely wonderful little goobers, and just watching a kid open a present during the holidays is enough to make even the Grinchiest of hearts grow a size or two. But if you’re completely clueless as to what “kids today” want for a holiday gift—remember the blissful years when everyone either wanted a Spice Girls Barbie or a Tickle Me Elmo? Shopping was so easy then!—here’s a few last-minute gift ideas for even the pickiest of snot-nosed little cousins. Who’s the coolest family member ever? You are!
1. Coloring books and crayon boxes.
And I’m not talking the wimpy coloring books you get at the dentist. Giving a kid Scribbles, Doodles, and Squiggles are my fail-safe presents for kids of all ages. There’s about three billion pages in each book, so kids are guaranteed hours of fun—and parents are guaranteed lots of quiet time, so you’ll be everyone’s favorite Santa. And don’t hold back with the little box of 8 crayons. The coveted 120-pack is only $12—or two and a half lattes in 20-something speak—and come on, you know having the big box of crayons made you the big kid on the playground. Live vicariously through your little cousin. Make a kid’s dreams come true.
Okay, maybe I’m biased, but come on. Letting a kid discover the stories that swept you up in an entire world of fantasy and devotion is the best feeling ever. I let a 7 year-old borrow my copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone a few weeks ago, and she immediately demanded I begin reading it to her. The boxed set is on sale, but you could also devote your time to being the gift that keeps on giving, and bestowing them monthly or bi-monthly installments of each book. You know, to keep the holiday spirit alive as they work their way through the set.
3. Your old iPhone
Before we get into the drama about kids these days and technology, let’s lay down a few ground rules if you would like to recycle your old phone into a gift:
1, Thou shalt only be allowed to gift thy old iPhone if it is still in proper working condition. The speakers should be functional, the screen should not be cracked, and the battery should not be lost forevermore. (Bonus points if you still have the box it came in. In other words, thou shalt not pawn your old phone off on your cousin just because the Apple store tried to give you $30 for swapping a brick for your new phone.
2, Thou shalt download a few age-appropriate games and music. Consider it a gift within a gift. You don’t have to spend a whole lot on the games, either, as gifting an old iPhone without service essentially—and this is the beauty of it—turns the phone into an iPod. Not only are you saving Mom and Dad from the burden of constantly hearing the pleading and begging that only kids who desire electronics can do, but because plugging a service-less phone into a computer is the only way to download new apps and media, your parental friends will have a lot more control as to what goes on the kid’s newfangled contraption.
Look, I know you know that we’ve both streamed the album on Spotify’s private session setting. I know you know we both think the songs are catchy. (I know you know we all have a favorite band member, even if we don’t know their names.) And if your kid cousin already has their copy, which, chances are they do, then you get to keep it for yourself. And I know you know this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Any kid who is not completely stoked to receive one of these bad boys does not deserve your love. And look! It comes in zesty colors like black now. Kids these days don’t know how good they have it. Now, this is a money item, so you could totally get away with buying one Easy Bake Oven for siblings, and insisting they learn to share. They’ll grumble and resent you a little, but hey. Can you really be all that mad at somebody who bought you the coolest toy ever? I didn’t think so.
6. A day out with the coolest person they know (that’s you)
It’s probably best to offer this one if the child in question is a family member, or at least the child of a very close family friend, but offering to take them to to the zoo, the movies, or even out to lunch will A, make them feel like a mini-grown up; B, make them feel cool enough to hang with grown ups; C, give their parents a much-needed afternoon to themselves. You’re not being a babysitter; you’re being a freaking life safer. And that kind of karma comes back triple, my friend.
Does an 18 month old kid need 7 For All Mankind jeans? No, probably not. And even though they’re “just $35,” that’s still a high price point for the amount of cloth you’re buying. But for all their absurdity, you have to admit that trendy baby clothes are pretty dang cute. And if you can’t help donate to the frivolous clothing fund, then who can? Leave it to parents and grandparents to focus on the functional clothing. Buy them a size larger so they last twice as long for growing kids, but JUST LOOK AT HOW AWESOME THEY ARE. (Buy the ones on sale; kids don’t subscribe to seasons the way we do. They’re smart that way.)
They’re on mega-sale this time of year, and who says you need to wait for October 31st to play pretend? Contribute to their dress up box with a few choice masks and costumes. Besides, kids have the right idea in knowing that that princess dress is an all-seasons sort of apparel. Spiderman can go grocery shopping too, you know.
9. A puppy
Just kidding, don’t be this asshole. Not even if you’re banking on the idea that the parents will reject the puppy and you’ll have to be kind-hearted enough to give it a home yourself. This will end well for absolutely no one.