Friday 1 December 2023

30 Unusual Gift Ideas for Children and Teenagers

We probably all know someone who is difficult to buy gifts for - this can often be the case for older people who have had the chance to accumulate a lot of 'stuff' in life. But it can also be tricky trying to think of gifts that work well for some children and young adults. This has been the case in our house, for one of our girls. She has never appreciated clothes, books, make-up, jewellery, music, board games, chocolate, sweets, or food of any kind for a gift. Even money wasn't an easy gift choice because although many children would love being able to choose for themselves, that caused extra anxiety here. Having to choose from such open-ended, seemingly infinite options (depending on amount of course) can be quite overwhelming. Alongside that sits a fear of running out of money (difficult to do when you don't actually spend any of it!).

stack of brightly coloured wrapped presents with title of blog post overlaid

We've had to be pretty 'creative' with gifts we've bought for our youngest daughter over the years. I know that even parents who know their child very well can break out in a sweat at the thought of trying to find something, anything, which will bring joy at Christmas or Birthday time.

We've had over 16 years of experience of gift buying for our youngest. For the first two years it didn't seem like too big a task, but I can confirm it quickly became a whole different ball game. Not being able to simply pick up any toy or gift you see on a shelf in a shop and know that the child you are buying for will at least like, if not love, it is generally something that happens when you have teenagers in the house, but it feels like it should be easier when children are younger. That said, many teenagers are happy with food or chocolate I think... but not all!

In recent years it feels like it has been a case of 'the rarer the better' in our house. Present buying has generally only happened with help from Ebay or Amazon, or some random small online Japanese store. Christmas decisions needed to be actioned in September to allow for the long shipping times! I'm guessing some people reading this will relate....

So I thought I would share some ideas of unusual gifts that might suit children of various ages. Most of these have found their way into our house over the years and been enjoyed, and there's a couple of popular suggestions that came from readers of my Facebook page (thanks if that was you!).

How to win friends and influence people... or at least, not waste money!

If you are buying for grandchildren or nephews/nieces or somebody else's children, my advice (before jumping into this list) is to ask parents what they think their child might like or use as a gift. This might be controversial; I know there are those out there who think that presents and gifts should be no-strings-attached. That children should just be happy with whatever they get and say thank you for it. There are some children in general who behave like this, but for some that's not so easy to do.

From what I remember of my career as a toy buyer, family board games make up a big part of Christmas sales when it comes to toys. Most board games don't work in our house. Our PDAer has always struggled with waiting for turns and with following rules set by other people (or the game), and she has also found it difficult to cope with the constant stress of worrying about losing. That said, there have been a couple of 'game' exceptions along the way and you will notice them in my list below.

We have been so lucky over the years that our family and friends have not taken offence at suggestions coming from us. Yes, it takes some of the 'sparkle' and spontaneity away, and can prompt not-so-fun chats about 'budgets' and the like, but on the other hand it reduces waste and money spent needlessly. So in our house we embrace the lists.

How do you approach your special occasion days?

As another side note before we dive into the list, a lot of families with neurodiverse children might need to think about expectations and change from the typical traditions or ways of doing things around the festive period or birthdays. One year, as I mention in my post 'How to help a child with PDA at Christmas', we gave our daughter her main Christmas present on December 13th. If that sounds crazy to you, I urge you to read that post to understand more!

So, on with the list of ideas - I appreciate not all of these will help every child, but if this gives just one person an idea they might not otherwise have had, I'll be happy! I'm splitting the list into six main categories, and there are ideas for all ages in these....

*The list contains affiliate links - as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, but it won't cost you any extra. The links are all in the titles/names of products or when you click the photos*

Fun stuff

1. Snow Balls
This gift is a great way of getting out pent up energy and involving the whole family in fun times, at any time of the year.
tub full of white fake material snowballs
This game is possibly better for slightly older children (7+); the rules are fairly simple though so as with everything, it really depends on the child.
exploding kittens box game
3. Dobble
A classic game along the lines of snap - but with five different ways of playing. This was probably the first game we owned where we realised we didn't have to let our younger daughter win, she was naturally better than us at spotting the matches!
Dobble cards spread out of tin
4. Shape Shifting Cube
These look amazing - a 3D magic cube that transforms into over 70 shapes. This Shashibo Sensory box is award-winning and features 36 rare earth magnets. Lots of different colours and patterns to choose from.
Little granules which expand when water is added - good idea for a stocking filler perhaps. This could cross over to the next category as it's also a great sensory experience.
plastic tub of Presto snow powder

Sensory Products

6. Mood Octopus
Our daughter used this for a while to show her feelings to teachers or those who she wasn't so comfortable with. Now she prefers to have it on the angry face most of the time because it's cuter!
different colour plush octopus with faces

7. Mood night light
There are so many versions of these with different characters or animals. The kitty went down well in our house.
white kitty shaped night light
8. Bubble tubes
Ours has fish in it, a bit like this one below, and they can double up on the sensory front if people find the low hum when switched on soothing.
blue bubble tube with floating plastic fish

9. Star Projector. These can range in price starting from very small, battery operated models, up to plug in options which give a whole room dramatic effect.
star projector shown in bedroom
10. Fidget toys
So many options under this group - we have a heart popper and the basic Rubix cube but there's a huge list of alternatives. One of the items below has just been added to my online basket - if you're a long-time reader of my blog you may be able to guess which one?!

11. Slime
A great sensory option and there's the option to add your own sequins or glitter to make it more interesting!
1kg purple bucket of slime
12. Bath bombs. 
Lush bath bombs were a staple product in our house for a few years. Definitely not cheap, but us parents will sometimes do anything to get our children to wash... 
However we have also tried these bath bombs from Zimpli (skin safe, drain safe, easy clean and stain free) and can recommend these too:

For children (or adults) who are struggling to sleep at night, there are lots more sensory product ideas in my post 38 helpful sleep solutions for children.

Branded and Character

Within this category there are always going to be many options in terms of characters (often from gaming or a TV series), and lots of different options in terms of items too, such as lights, books, jigsaws or plush toys. It is best to ask first what the favourite character of the child you are buying for is - no point in receiving a Paw Patrol vehicle if you're an avid Octonauts fan, for example.  

13. Building bricks. 
Lego is a firm favourite with many children and there are different character branded sets available as well as the generic options. Harry Potter is one example of a well loved character that has a Lego range, or maybe trains or seasonal items might be of interest? So many other choices too!

Now ssshhh, don't tell anyone I've said this but if your child does not mind about the branding (but let's face it, lots do!) then there might be other options that would work here. I'm loving the look of this Santa's Christmas Gingerbread House Building Block Kit:

14. Minecraft potion lamp and Minecraft torch lamp. Minecraft is another big favourite brand with longevity and you can't go wrong with something fun and useful like this. It's always worth checking what items the children may already have though.
minecraft torch toy and lamp shaped like potion bottle

Nintendo rules in our house and Kirby is a firm favourite. There are plenty of other options, such as Mario or Animal Crossing characters - if your child is anything like mine though, they won't want the most popular character, they will more likely crave the obscure, super rare ones. Sigh.
pink plush kirby toy

16. Pokemon is a brand which is adored by many autistic children and adults - in fact the creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tajiri, is said to be autistic too. As with many of the other characters, there are hundreds of different ideas for gifts themed around Pokemon - this Funko POP! Eevee toy is very cute (and highly collectable!). Pikachu is the most well-known character but I've had to pick Eevee to show you because our girl definitely does not like any character that is 'mainstream' or the most popular!
I've created a list with lots of different ideas based on Pokemon - find it here: Pokemon Gift List.

17. Books.
For lots of children (but not all!), books are a great option. Our daughter would not have considered any book a good gift until she received the Pokemon Extra Super Deluxe Essential Handbook

purple cover of pokemon handbook

Other book suggestions include How to draw AnimePeppa Pig books, or Where's Wally?
wheres wally collection of books

Craft and activity toys

18. Kinetic sand
Many happy hours spent at our house over the years, playing with different colours and different accessories that go with this.

19. Play Doh
Another well used product at ours - and although there are plenty of kits which make great present ideas, sometimes it's the basic Play Doh itself which makes the best gift.
pyramid of 21 play doh tubs
20. Marble run
There are so many marble runs to choose from but we started off with this basic set so it didn't take up too much space:
Box for Galt marble run
21. Paints. Our daughters used to get through huge quantities of paint when younger and it was always a treat to get new colours or glitter options, or acrylics as they got older. Colouring pens or art sets could work well too but many houses end up with far too many of these so again, it's always worth asking. These acrylic paint pens look great:
acrylic paint pens in 12 colours
Our autistic girl would have struggled to find the patience for any kind of specific arts and crafts sets but they could work well for some, especially if on a theme they love such as animals.

22. Air Dry Clay
There are 24 packs of colourful air dry clay in this set, along with a project book giving ideas. Soft and squishy, non-toxic and takes about 24 hours to dry hard so that gives plenty of time for minds to be changed or finishing touches to be added!
24 brightly coloured packs of clay and a few creations, car, owl, present

House and home items

23. Character Bedding
Duvet covers and blankets have worked well in our house if they had characters on. We've had Pokemon and Minecraft but there are so many more options of course! 
Clothing might be another option for some (and I have a feeling a Kirby T-shirt will go down well in our house) but I know that for some, super soft seamless clothing is more important than a brand. Could be worth a try though!

24. Cushions
Again, so many options here. We've had a few different ones over the years, some shaped, some with reversible sequins that were fun for sensory reasons, but I reckon this Minecraft TNT cushion would go down well with quite a few:

25. Coverless duvets
Lots of options but I think our girl might like this Stars coverless duvet (I found a gorgeous rainbow one that I would have liked, but I'm thinking that might be a bit over the top for a teen?!)
Bed with coverless grey and white star duvet on top


It probably goes without saying that most children these days love a bit of 'tech'. Especially when they get to the teenager stage. Phones and consoles probably feature highly on many wishlists. Our younger daughter doesn't have much interest in fancy phones as she's never out alone or with friends.

26. Nintendo Switch - One of the best gifts our daughter has ever received; this has given her years of enjoyment so far. The games for it are a little pricey but have been worth it. We've hit a block this year because there are no new games that she wants being released in time for Christmas, so it looks like we might end up having Christmas in Spring....

27. Tablet.
If you are not an Apple family then the Amazon Fire Tablet is worth a look - some might say a better price point and a godsend when it comes to keeping children regulated and engaged with learning.

28. Bluetooth wireless headphones were a fairly recent discovery for us. Airpods have been brilliant for me but Sasha prefers her over the ear ones - this is the pair she uses and they work well:
pink wireless headphones
29. Another big tech hit for our girl who loves to create digital art was her Apple Pencil - remember to check which version is compatible with your iPad.

30. And finally... Gift cards. Or money.

This goes back to my point about asking the parents, or trying to understand what the child would really appreciate. For some autistic children, there is a love of Fries so strong that nothing else matters, and a McDonalds gift card would make them happy. Sadly, we don't seem to have those available here in the UK... you could design your own though! Here's what I came up with for our girl - this made her very happy (and is now a repeat present for birthdays and Christmas!)

Or maybe a Lush voucher for them to choose bath bombs. Or Robux, or credit on the Nintendo or App Stores, or even an Amazon gift card, if they're not overwhelmed by the choice. If they're at the stage where they are mature enough to go shopping themselves and hand over a gift card, that's great, but even if not most parents will do their best to involve them in the process of using the gift card and understanding where it's come from, if that's possible.

Hopefully if you were, like me, thinking 'what on earth am I going to get this year?!' this list may have helped a bit. If anyone has any ideas for a 16 year old girl who doesn't go out much, doesn't like make-up or stationery and the like, and doesn't know what she wants, feel free to share with us! 


  1. It's a pleasure! I know the struggle of not knowing what to get!

  2. There's a reason people say *You're so cute when you're angry*

    and when I saw the octopus - and Sasha's reaction - I really understood the import of that.

    Robux - does that come from Roblox at all?

    1. Yes! Cute octopus :) and yes Robux is for Roblox!

    2. It turns out I do have a nearly incredibly perfect gift for a 16-year-old who doesn't know what she wants.

      This is one I encountered reading the Technology section of a newspaper.

      It is the Meta Quest 3.

      If your daughter loves to spend time in a virtual reality she can control...

      Tim Biggs [tech writer] has lots of ideas for games - like Job Simulator and one other Simulator.

      And the thing about the Meta Quest - or indeed the Oculus - is that the whole family can enjoy it - from children to senior citizens.

      The other thing about the Meta Quest is that you no longer have to have a Facebook account or a Meta Account to be able to use it [you did have to with the first 2 versions].

      Thank you for confirming that Robux can indeed be spent in Roblox.

      Or perhaps you might wait for Apple's version of virtual reality hardware and software.

      With pre-existing games the way they are "Christmas in Spring" is a great idea.

      [or fill up someone's Steam or account].


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