By Michelle Spitzer

Christmas is a time for family. For me, the greatest joy of the season is making the people I love happy. I have my family over for a big Christmas dinner and to enjoy some time spent together, which is so hard to do with such busy lives. We talk, we eat, we may have a drink or two, and of course, we exchange presents. My favourite part. I love watching everybody's reaction to their presents. And of course, I hope that they love whatever it is I've gotten them, because, let's face it, we all want to be the one who gave the best gift.

Planning for Christmas day is a marathon. Mums and Dads the world over are busy months in advance making sure that their little ones get the toys they have their little hearts set upon. They worry about how to get everything right, and they worry about possibly bankrupting themselves in the process of making sure that everyone has a magical time.

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. Presents wrapped with a bow.

My lovely Mum was the Queen of Christmas. Mostly because she started planning in January. She made every Christmas special, which is probably why it has always been my favourite time of year. It's from her I inherited the love of seeing the smiles on everyone's faces as they opened a well thought out present or tasted one of her perfectly baked mince pies. Yes, my Mum passed on the joy of Christmas to me, she also passed on the ability to get lost in a small room. What she didn't pass on however were the organisational skills to actually pull it off. Or the patience. It takes so much patience to trawl through the thousands of possibilities each year to make sure I get just the right thing. 

However, eight years and three little princesses later, I have managed to pick up two healthy habits to help me be almost adequately prepared for the impending chaos. Firstly, my saviour every year from my tendency towards procrastination are my lists. So many lists! So many that I have a list for my lists. The Master List.

The Master List (and I know so many of us have one) covers everything from the vital Santa Lists that the princesses have been adding to at an alarming rate, to the food list, and most importantly (for me at least), the list of everyone I need to get presents for. So that I don't forget anybody. Again. Because once was embarrassing enough.

And of course, each person is assigned a gift. The perfect gift, because I'm only human and I want them to like me the best. This is where the patience comes in. Not being a naturally thoughtful person means lots of research.

Which brought me to healthy habit number two, there is no shame in asking a person for hints or even a list. I know who I can ask straight out what they want, because they want a bad present about as much as I want to give one. Sadly my family has grown to enjoy getting a surprise (thanks for spoiling them Mum) so a direct answer may not always be forthcoming, but they can at least point me in the right direction. 

So while I know the Aunties will be happy with wine glasses and scented candles, and the neighbours will love their bottle of wine (to be shared obviously), there is one group that takes that extra bit of thought, the toughest of audiences; other people's kids. 

You know what happens, you text your brother to ask what their little darlings want (in an endless search for the crown of 'favourite aunt') only to get the response 'I dunno, Lego?'. Helpful, thanks.

You can't really ask the kids themselves until they have reached a certain age and have had some manners put on them, because if you ask the average 4 year old what they want you better sit yourself down, you're going to be there for a while.

So here I come to the rescue. Fifteen years of being an Aunt has taught me a thing or two, and here are some of the presents that have made it onto my list for the little people in my life, hopefully you will pick up some ideas for your list. 

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. Santa doing his online shopping.

The Teenagers

No messing about here, get them a voucher or a card with some money. You may be tempted to impress them with your knowledge of modern teen culture but be warned, never has there been a teenager who is impressed by anything a geriatric (in this case anyone over 25) has to offer. If you have managed to raise a pleasant, polite and sociable teenager then I commend you, you are a magical unicorn. Please share your tips.

Pro tip - hand them their present and back away slowly. Don't try to hug them or they will retreat to their lairs, not to be seen again until it's time to go back to school.

Older Kids

Nothing much has changed here since I was a kid, the classic presents are still the best. Now, they may be hoping that you dig deep and buy them the latest Stars Wars Lego set that costs over 100 Euro but let's not go mad. 

Lego is a brilliant present, for boys and girls. The world needs more engineers and builders. It can occupy them (and probably Dad) for hours and open up a world of imagination. But there is no need to bankrupt yourself to achieve this, there are plenty of smaller sets that will entertain them just as much. Or you know, you could let their imaginations go wild and just get them plain old Lego. It's a win for you (they'll love it), and as long as they don't leave them scattered all over the floor for Mum and Dad to discover (or to trap the poor Tooth Fairy as I once did) then everybody is happy.

Of course Lego is not for everybody. Perhaps there is an aspiring bookworm you could impress. There is a world of titles to choose from, you could even go for some of the old classics like Nancy Drew, Adrian Mole and of course Roald Dahl books that they may not have come across yet. There really is something for everyone. Or play it safe with an Eason's voucher. It really is wonderful to see kids read, we give out enough about them being stuck to a screen, but I know plenty of kids who love getting books or going in to pick out something they haven't read yet. And I know they will be thrilled to add to their growing libraries. 

I'm pandering to the inquisitive minds here a bit, but to be honest, these are the best years to buy for, there is so much to choose from to get them thinking and working things out. Maybe you know a future magician or a biologist? Well, there's a set for that. Art sets, science sets, slime making sets (kid will love you, Mum not so much), chemistry sets, jewellery making kits, there is so much to choose from you really can cater to any type of kid with these. 

The younger ones again tend to love arts and craft sets that you can pick up in pretty much any supermarket or discount store. As a parent, I'm not overly fond of the mess these create but I do love seeing them get creative. Even just a big box of crayons and a ream of printing paper can entertain them, it helps their development, it doesn't cost much and they will love it.

Of course all this new artwork builds up, Rooms for Rascals have your back here, with some lovely ways to display their masterpieces like this one in the link below.

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. This Week's Masterpiece Blue Star with Spots.

So, I've listed nothing earth shattering here, nothing that is new or inspiring even. But here's the trick, think of the kid you are buying for and what kind of personality they have and you will find a present in this list for them. It's that easy. 

My top tip, buy a few extra cheaper sets to have handy just in case you have some unexpected playdates or you have to pad out another present when it looks like your sister has been extra generous to your kids (because no way are you the only one vying for the crown of best relative) and nobody wants to get caught out giving less than they are getting. Anything unused can then be used for any upcoming birthday parties.  

The Little Ones

The tiny people really do not need or want for much bless them. I once had a toddler who was endlessly entertained by a mirror (now I have an 8 year old who rarely leaves the mirror). So, if you like their parents, may I suggest staying away from the excessively noisy toys. Unless they did it to you first then go for it. 

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. Girl making a jigsaw puzzle.

For the slightly older ones, puzzles are great. I'm not talking 100 piece jigsaws (unless you're dealing with a mini mastermind), but here are some great options for a range of ages. 

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. Child playing with Geostacker sensory toy.

For the younger toddlers maybe consider the Geostackers sensory toy and for the smaller ones the sensory ball. They will be entertained, and they will be learning. That's a win/win.

The Art of Christmas Shopping for… Other People’s Kids. Rainbow soft ball sensory toy.

So that's all the younger generation covered. And one list done. 

To avoid any embarrassing mishaps (again) I am going to take my own advice and buy a few extra kids sets, not to mention a few extra bottles of wine, selection boxes and even some extra sets of lovely bath smellies just in case, because as good as my lists are, it's always best to be prepared for the unexpected. And if they are not used, well then that's my Christmas present to myself sorted!