How to Live With, Be Around and Give Gifts to Kids: Holiday Season Special

And a happy Festivus to you! Are you the proud caretaker of a small, young human? Perhaps you’ll be traveling with them to a holiday destination in the near future? Or, if you don’t have a small person of your own, maybe you will soon find yourself in the company of several children who don’t belong to you but are nonetheless blocking your view of the television and scheming to eat the last roll.

What will you do?? First you will make a nice cup of tea and take a deep breath. Ok now you’re ready.

This is your greatest opportunity to create real, lasting, totally insane holiday traditions that these kids will remember forever and possibly pass on to their future friends/families. You don’t even have to be their parents — as long as the tradition is ridiculously fun or weird, they’ll appreciate it. This is absolutely not the time for unoriginality.


Everyone wants to look at and interact with the young people you’re in charge of. They’ll have you believe it’s because they love these children and want to get to know them better — and that’s probably true — but it’s mostly about checking up on your parenting skills and judging your work. That’s fine; you’ve likely done an excellent job and should have nothing to worry about. However, everyone knows that children can be rogue, unpredictable little things, capable of embarrassing the holy living hell out of you at any moment.

That prospect is terrifying. As with all parenting endeavors, you will need a strategic plan and a small arsenal of bribes.


For shy children, it’s imperative that they be given the proper tools for interacting with strange, older people. Explain that you will be visiting some folks who might be loud, tall and wearing lots of perfume, and that these people will have a great interest in the child. This will make the child uncomfortable. Tell the child it’s perfectly normal; that the same thing happened to you. Have the  child practice acceptable responses via role play.

You: HI SMALL PERSON!! I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU IN [TIME]!! What grade are you in??? Look at your hair!! Oh you are just THE CUTEST THING.

Child: (smiling) Hello, thank you. I am in [grade]. It is nice to see you again. I like your [something, anything].

You: OH THANK YOU! WHAT A PRECIOUS ADORABLE CHILD! Do you like [grade]? Do you have a [girl/boyfriend]??? I BET YOU DO! OHHHHH!

Child: (smiling) Thank you. No, I do not currently have a [girl/boyfriend], as I’ve chosen to focus solely on my studies and future career. I hope to be involved with the local [shelter/co-op/community theater] next summer. I have a [GPA]. It was so nice to talk to you. I’m going to get some water now. Excuse me.


People need incentives — it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Be frank: “If you embarrass me, I will take away [prized possession(s)] for [outrageous length of time]. If you do not embarrass me and instead make me look awesome, I will give you [money/days off from chores/a puppy?]. The end.”

Above all, remind the child that no matter what happens at this holiday function, they will be returning with you to your house, where they will stay for several years to come, and that you have a pristine memory and very little interest in granting amnesty.



I just needed an excuse to show you these suitcases.

1. Travel Buddies Archie the Alien
2. Melissa & Doug Trunki in Sunny Orange look at this fucking cute wtfery


Charge every device. If it has batteries, charge them. If it will need batteries, bring them. Bring more than you think you need, then bring more.

For Your Ears

For some reason, short young humans don’t like listening to NPR for hours on end. I know, it’s so weird. I think you should make a mix CD to bring along. Because it’s the holidays, you’re allowed to add as many obnoxious holiday songs as you’d like and you’re encouraged to sing along enthusiastically. They’ll love you for this later, when they have something to complain about to their friends.

The Trip

Whether the travel time is 20 mins or two days, being prepared is crucial. Anything from a splinter to a mini-famine could occur before you’re even out of the driveway. Aside from the obvious supplies — like band-aids, PSPs, headphones, a deck of cards, etc. — don’t forget the Please Shut Up Lollipops, the Stop Complaining Gum, and the I Cannot Possibly Answer Another Inane Question Fruit Leather. If you’ll be traveling for an extended period of time, I highly recommend the I Will Only Love You if I Can’t Hear You String Cheese.

NEXT PAGE: Holiday Gatherings With Kids – A Guide For Childless Humans — including a fantastic guide on how to give gifts to people younger than you!

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lnj has written 310 articles for us.


  1. I NEVER RECEIVED THE 64 BOX OF CRAYOLA CRAYONS. Granted I did get the Barbie Dream Boat that came in with a built-in battery operated blender. But seriously, where were the crayons?

    Also ever since Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, I can’t handle button eyes.

  2. I always wanted one of those little electric camo-covered cars… I would have even settled for the Barbie-themed one. DAMNIT, I JUST WANTED TO DRIVE A CAR. It never happened. :(

    My little sister got one within like five minutes of being born, though. Totally not bitter.

    • When I was a kid, for some reason Toys R Us decided to put batteries in all of the cars… yet leave them locked up all within a row, bumper to bumper… but I still have glorious memories of running them repeatedly into the cars in front and behind.

      …It may be the reason I still am unable to parallel park.

  3. Laneia I feel like I have seen very little of you on various internet locations lately and that has been making me very extremely sad. So this post made me extra happy because a) it is you and b) I like when you talk about little humans.

    Remember that time you were on internet vacation for like two weeks? Man, I missed you then almost as badly as I missed you this time. Please don’t ever leave, I’ll bribe you with whiskey.

    There is a very nice Makers Mark holiday gift set at Albertsons right now.

    • I too love you, Laneia, and would also contribute to whiskey if you tried to leave us.

      I’m getting kids books because I work at Barnes and Noble, and who doesn’t want their kids to have books! But I’m also hoping to find amazing board games. We have a big board game section but it’s very overwhelming, so I’d love suggestions. The family I’m looking to buy for particularly enjoyed Clue last time I heard, about 18mos ago, and the kids are 11 (girly girl) and 13 (hands-on, practical boy). Ideas, anyone?

      For another family, I plan to buy this: for the girl, and for the boy, some of the soldiers from Toy Story. Suggestions also welcome as replacement for soldiers, but it’s all I’ve seen this kid play with. That and lego but he has the huge crate already.

      Huge thanks to anyone who can help!

      • biensurmacherie: BANANAGRAMS! omg. also dominoes are good for a wide age range bc it’s all about counting/colors.

        for the soldier replacements, you could buy blind boxed (er, wrapped) lego minifigures? actually, blind boxed vinyl toys are a good option, too, but maybe that’s just for a certain kind of child — like the nerdy kind. like mine.

    • rachel! <3 i do remember that vacation! you don’t even have to bribe me with whiskey — i am here forever ever. my mom bought a gift set of knob creek when she was here for thanksgiving and it came with COASTERS. i feel like i’m on mad men.

      • Forever ever sounds great to me thank you.

        The Makers set has two glasses with red wax on the bottom just like the top of the bottle does. They’re so neat! I’m excited about it like small people get excited about exciting small people things. I’ll bring my wax Makers glasses to set on your Knob Creek coasters? We can smoke candy cigarettes and then it’ll really be liked Mad Men!

  4. I am in my twenties and I love the plasmacar. I borrow my friends’ tiny human relatives so I can play on it with them. SO FUN. SO, you know, get that for adults too.

    • YESSSS when I was almost 16 (18 now, not that long ago) I was playing with one in Target and my sister took a picture of me and I sent it to my mom and told her I didn’t want a real car for my birthday*, I wanted that.

      *moot point, I didn’t get my license for another two years after that, and also no way would my parents buy me a car, but you know. it’s a trope.

  5. I love this when we were small we had to spend 4hrs in a car to visit relatives.. (probably not long compared to journeys in america but really long here) so around christmas time our parent distracted us by getting us to count christmas trees in house windows along the road side.. and if our concentration on this was broken and the words ‘im boooooored’ were uttered my mother went with ‘wow look at that huge horse’ and we’d then be distracted looking for the big horse… recently i made this journey with a little person i was minding and yes i did use both of these tactics its amazing how good a kid can be in a car for 4hrs with the simplest distraction…

  6. THE PIGEON BOOKS ARE SO GREAT. The capslock is necessary. They are that great.

    My friends’ older tiny human is getting this book: and their younger tiny human is getting this one: I’m planning on getting them each something small to go along with the books, but I have no idea what.

    • I agree with Sarah! In general giftcards = big success with tiny people! I remember I used to hate when people would try and buy me gifts (besides legos and books) and ever since I had reccieved my first gift card I’ve always conviently told people where I like to shop or what I like to read.

  7. Is it strange that I want both of those suitcases? I’m 25 and normal luggage is boring/expensive/not covered in aliens.

    Also, Legos are fantastic, but do they still make those things called Erector sets? My cousin had a bunch of those when we were little and I still can’t even. Worst/best name ever.

  8. I now want a small human for the sole purpose of training a four year old to reply to my insane relatives that they are focusing on their careers.

    • it really is one of the top 5 reasons to get your own small human. if you catch them at an early enough age, they’ll say anything. like, anything. it’s better than tv.

      • My favorite small human told me at a mexican restaurant last night that if I was a transformer, I’d be Optimus Prime, then asked the waiter for ‘the same again, with two straws’ (the same again is apple juice, and both straws for him, FYI). He’s three and a half, pretty much made my night.

  9. thank you. i love this. i am the adult cousin that organizes games of hide n seek, reads bed time stories and offers to go for a walk with the one little cousin who is flipping their shit over >insert child tantrum motive here<

    but i never give gifts cuz i think it's too much cuz all of the little cousins gets mountains of sh*t like wayyyy tooooo muchhhhh shhhhiiiiiiittttttttttt haha

    however, there is a cute well-behaved boy child in my family that just might be getting the plasma car and he has you to thank.

  10. true story: i love the noisy toys. drums, keyboards, singing books, whatever. but, no matter how many times i ask my tiny 3 year old human what she wants for christmas, she always answers “a bird house”. what the fuck does she know about a bird house? where did she become aware of their existence? she’s getting the elmo drum kit anyway. and, i guess a bird house.
    also, she asked me the same question so many times earlier tonight that i offered her a popsicle post-bath just so i didn’t have to hear that question again.

    • LOL the fact your tiny 3 year old reminds me of when I was 11 and my mom asked what I wanted. I said books. She ended up starting a new punishment for bad behavior: no reading. Sooo, maybe when she acts bad you can punish her from the bird house and make her play with the cool elmo drum kit?

      • I was also punished with no reading as a child. It was very effective and absolutely the most upsetting thing my parents could do to me. This may be because all of my friends were book characters…I did not mesh well with my peers.

    • My tiny 3 and 4 year olds actually have a birdhouse, and it is one of their most prized possessions. We recently found ourselves in a gift shop with a birdhouse display and my 3 year old had to look into every. single. one. I don’t get it either.

      • evidently, they’re super interesting to small children. i don’t know where she’s seen one, but i think it’s going to be lots of fun for her to paint it her self and stuff.

    • this is so cute. now i want a birdhouse! does she just really love birds? or is it more about the house? WHAT IF YOU TOOK HER TO AN AVIARY. i would hyperventilate around all those beaks, but she might be really impressed.

      • lol. no she doesn’t have any special feelings towards birds, but she would probably love going to an aviary. i feel like there would be SO MANY birdhouses there.

        • no i def wanted a birdhouse too, but i don’t remember why, i think there must be a lot of birdhouse propaganda in children’s films/television

  11. “Kids make the best movies. Hands down, no exaggeration.”

    I’ll tell that to my mum next time she finds a two hour video that my little brother and sister made of them making brown-eyes at the camera.

    • Their website says 3+, but if you’re okay with him scooting it at first, rather than realising its full potential, I think he’d be okay. Also, if I were his parent I’d really appreciate a gift that he could grow up with and find new ways to play with, you know? I think that’s a valuable quality.

  12. also also FUCK YEAH LEGOS. Those were continually my favorite present growing up…wait, no actually I would *still* love to get Legos for Christmas.

  13. I’m 23 and I just bought The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for myself and was super excited about it when I saw it in the store. Children’s books are the shit.

  14. This is so great. I love buying Christmas gifts so much and especially buying Christmas gifts for babies, but everyone in my family has become a boring adult now so I guess I have to wait until whenever they start having babies. Also, this — “I don’t necessarily want to give them what they want; I want to give them what I think they’d like or what reminds me of them.” — is absolutely my gift-giving philosophy. Giving gifts is like an extra nice form of communication or art! It totally takes the fun out of it to turn it into just some transaction, its terms agreed upon.

  15. To pass the time in cars I always look at the clock, find a spot in the far distance(sign,overpass,curve,etc., and try to predict what time it will be once the car reaches that spot. Best way to pass a long trip.

  16. These articles so insanely relevant to my life right now. See: listening to NPR in the car with children, why setting up the painting supplies is awful, and shopping at three different stores looking for the LaLa Loopsy with pink hair and only being able to find one with light purple that’s hopefully close enough to do the trick. Please never stop writing them.

  17. the kid w/ the headphones in the last graphic on pg 1 looks SO MUCH like my #2 little person. i realize you guys probably don’t care, but it’s so weird that i had to share.

  18. You know why my childhood was better than that of kid today? My Lincoln logs were made out of fucking wood.

  19. I give art supplies. As the resident art school cousin it’s
    A) Something I have easy access to
    C) Have you ever given a kid a notebook and some crayons/gel pens/colored pencils? Shit keeps them entertained for HOURS.

  20. Last night I befriended a 5 year old little beast in a mall and convinced him of the existence of Santa!! He said he didn’t ask for anything because his dad told him there was no santa, so I pulled the tried and true “but who feeds the reindeer?” :D

  21. “a pocket knife will really reaffirm your gayness for any relative who might still be in denial.”

    this. I am doing this. can autostraddle tell me which one to buy on amazon? cause I feel less guilty buying things then.

  22. I am currently waiting for my little human (niece) to become big enough that I can organize a treasure hunt that involves magically appearing ink pirate map (via lemon juice and fire, look it up!). She is currently too little for me to put such thoughts in her mind because I don’t want her to burn my sister’s house down.

  23. This post makes me super-excited for the point when my sister and friends start making babies and I can buy them cool things. Until that point, uh, I want that luggage for myself.

  24. Those of us with kids who are travelling in a tiny car with them for hours to get to our in-laws house really appreciate it when aunts and uncles do things like spend 15 minutes playing with our three year old and holding our baby so we can 1) go pee alone 2)drink a cup of coffee without having to microwave it 75 times or 3) finish a conversation with the wife without 147 interruptions

    Also please avoid loud toys-we won’t forget where they came from and we WILL give them back to you when you procreate.

    • I don’t understand the loud toy thing, I like my brother why would I want to make his life a living hell with some obnoxious loud toy

  25. The shy kid guide is awesome because I was a major shy kid and no one in my family ever, ever, EVER tried to make it easier on me. I have childhood trauma from trips to visit family abroad and having to interact with strange adults in my weaker language AND getting mocked for my efforts by the immediate fam- that majorly sucked for little me. If I ever have a tiny human who takes after me, I will remember this tip and give them a hand. Others, please help out your shy kids; they’re not doing it on purpose and it’s not cute to them.

  26. I loved the role playing dialogue/responses. Hilarious. It made me think of this article that I read awhile back on how to talk to young girls:

    This is relevant to those of us meeting young nieces/cousins/etc for the first time (or who don’t remember us). It’s also good for being introduced to young girls in general. Instead of focusing on the “aren’t you so cute/pretty/adorable” it says to ask the little girl “what book are you reading” or something to promote confidence and interest in a girls mind rather than her appearance.

    “…one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains. One brief moment of intentional role modeling. ”

    Great read!

  27. “for a girl who likes dolls”.. ha, why just girls, my godson would beat out any girl in the enthusiasm department over that doll…he loves Coraline and GroovyGirlz. Too bad the Lalopaloozy model is a bit pricey. Seen anything similar for cheaper?

    • when i said “if you have to buy a gift for a girl who likes dolls,” i was referencing the gender divide that parents can sometimes enforce on their children’s toys. as in, “you can only buy dolls for my daughter.” i assumed that readers would come to the article with the feeling that they would never ‘have to’ buy a gift for a boy who likes dolls, because we’d all actually LOVE to buy dolls for boys, due to our obsession with subverting gender norms etc. i apologize for not making that clearer.

      as for the price, there are mini lalaloopsy dolls that are a little bigger than polly pockets! also there are mid-size dolls. i’m just obsessed with them, i think. i want the treehouse set.

  28. I always liked listening to NPR for hours when I was ittle…of course, I had no idea nor did I really care what they were saying, but monotone voices are just so damn wonderful.

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