Wondering what to buy the child who has it all…and yet plays with NOTHING?
High need babies and spirited toddlers/preschoolers often aren’t great at soothing and entertaining themselves.
This means we buy a ton of different toys, products and soothing contraptions in the hopes that maybe THIS will be the one that will hold their attention for more than 2 minutes!
I’ve been there, trust me.
My son was never good at playing independently, so when we found something that he would actually play with, it felt like a little Christmas miracle.
As the holiday season approaches, I hope to make the gift-buying process a little easier for you.
I recently surveyed the parents in my Facebook support groups to find out which toys, books and other products their fussy, high need, or spirited babies, toddlers or preschoolers ACTUALLY like…
Those products are all listed below, along with other winners from past surveys I’ve conducted!
*Disclaimer: Some of the links below are affiliate links. Go here to read my affiliate policy (Summary: I never recommend products I wouldn’t buy myself).
In my experience, high need babies and spirited kids tend to prefer real-life objects over toys. They also do best when as many of their senses are engaged as possible (sight, touch, sound, etc.). You’ll find the following gifts meet these criteria!
The Spark Kitchen Sink has been a favorite among our spirited kids for a couple of years now. It often sells out near Christmas, so be sure to order early! Don’t be fooled by similar sinks that don’t have running water (our kids can tell the difference).
If you get one toy for your fussy or high need baby this Christmas, this should be it! I consistently hear from parents that this is one of the few toys that keeps their baby engaged. Tested and approved by my nephew!
#3. Magnetic Sand
Sand is a favorite among spirited kids! The problem, of course, is that real sand ends up on the floor, in their hair, clothes, etc. Magnetic/kinetic sand solves this problem by offering the cool, smooth feel of sand…without sticking to anything but itself.
High need babies often have a serious case of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. This means they prefer to be standing, seeing everything, and of course, being entertained constantly! The Skip Hop Explore and More Activity Center is a great little exersaucer that lets your little one stay in on the action, while also giving him lots of toys to play with when he gets bored.
I’m not going to lie: I want one of these for myself! They are another fan favorite. The price tag is steep, but parents tell me the Nugget furniture provides hours of fun for their spirited child. If you’re looking for a similar, less-expensive option, Foamnasium offers a variety of playsets at a much lower cost.
Good old-fashioned Play-Doh with accessories like this play kitchen are a hit with many spirited kids. It’s a nice low-cost option (you can even DIY) that will provide hours (okay, minutes!) of fun.
Sensory tables are a fantastic option for spirited kids, especially if you have a covered outdoor space in which to use it. They keep sand and water separate, and you can change up the materials you use when your kid gets bored (which let’s face it…she will).
#8. Magnetic Blocks
I’m not exactly sure what it is about these strange-looking little blocks that kids find so fascinating, but there’s no doubt they’re a favourite! They’re great for building, sorting, and are safe for little ones who love putting something in their mouth!
This little seat consistently ranks high in surveys I’ve done of parents. It’s a great option if your little one desperately wants to sit up but just isn’t quite able to yet! Our babies seem to prefer this over the Bumbo or other, similar seats.
We all know high need and spirited babies and kids tend to get bored of their toys pretty easily. Enter: Kiwi Kids subscription boxes. Regularly receive toys and activities suited to your child’s age and stage of development. A tip from one of our moms: “Don’t go by the age range, go by your child’s interest level. My kid LOVED these from his grandmother. Best money spent”. And just for my readers…get 30% off with code Share30!
Slime is a wonderfully-tactile toy that will satisfy your child’s need for squishy, squashy fun! Note from one of our moms: “Rubbing alcohol removes slime!”.
This is a newcomer to my “top toys” list, but comes with high reviews from some of our parents. This cute little interactive moose plays music, counts, lights up, and more.
Trust me when I say this: You’ll have just as much fun with this toy as your child! Since we know spirited kids tend to prefer real-life objects to toys, this “busy board” is a crowd favourite. Tested and approved by my nephew for his third Christmas!
This is another awesome toy subscription that one of our moms recommended. Each month, you’ll receive a kit full of high-quality, developmentally-appropriate toys. And the best part? A subscription starts at just $36/month. This is a perfect gift suggestion for Grandma and Grandpa!
Bright, colourful balls that provide an added tactile experience due to the textured surface. A great way to keep your little one entertained while also encouraging gross and fine motor skill development. BPA-free.
#16. Bed Tent
This is a toy I always wanted to get my son and never did! Spirited kids can sometimes feel overwhelmed and want to bury themselves with blankets and stuffies. This is a great little escape when they’re dealing with big feelings…or just to make bedtime a little more appealing.
Fussy, colicky and high need babies tend to need intense soothing – gentle rocking and lullabies just won’t cut it! These top-rated soothing products are ideal for our more sensitive, intense and persistent babies.
This sound machine and nightlight combo was the top fan favourite on my latest survey. What I like about it is that it functions as a light and sound machine when your baby is little, and becomes a “time to wake” device to keep your spirited toddler in bed just a little bit longer in the mornings.
#18. Yoga Ball
A yoga or exercise ball is a must-have if you have a fussy or colicky newborn. Swaddle your little one up nice and snug, hoist him up on your shoulder, sit down in the ball, and start bouncing…fast. Add some white noise and you’ve got the fussy-baby-sleep magic bullet!
Need a white noise machine you can use while on the go? The Skip Hop Portable Sleep Soother is a portable white noise machine you can throw in your diaper bag and clip on to your stroller. Where was this when my kids were little??
#20. Fluffy Blanket
This is exactly what it sounds like! Several moms who completed my most recent survey noted that a super-fluffy blanket is their baby’s soothing product of choice.
If you’re in the market for a white noise machine, your search is over (seriously). This is consistently the #1 white noise machine parents – and sleep experts – tell me they prefer.
#22. Graco DreamGlider
Since our beloved Rock ‘n Play has been recalled, parents frequently ask which swing is best for fussy or colicky babies. In all my research, the Graco DreamGlider consistently comes out on top for fussy babies! It’s fast enough for even the fussiest baby, and I love that it can fully recline. You can read my full review of the DreamGlider here.
#23. Look and Find Books
Have a spirited child who doesn’t particularly enjoy looking at books or being read to? Look and find books (think Where’s Waldo for little kids) are the perfect choice, as they’re much more likely to keep your child engaged and entertained.
#24. Little Blue Truck
This was a fan favourite on my most recent survey. It’s a fun little book (available as a paperback or board book) about a little truck who picks up farm animals on his journey. For some reason, this book gets a thumbs up from spirited kids!
This is an excellent gift for kids old enough to recognize their name. Get your child’s name inserted into any of their (many) books, including look and find books! (See #23).
#26. Textured Books
As already mentioned, high need and spirited kids often do best when multiple senses are engaged – this is why textured board books are so great! This touch and feel animal book looks great, but a quick search on Amazon will reveal many more adorable options.
#27. Never Touch a Dragon
If you’re part of our Facebook support groups, you know many of our parents refer to their kids as “dragons” (amazing, fire-breathing creatures!). This book was recommended on my recent survey, and I agree – it’s very fitting!
This was another fan favourite on my most recent survey. This is a classic board book that also comes in a lift-the-tab edition. You can’t go wrong with this one!
Car rides can be a nightmare with a fussy or high need child. Many spirited babies and toddlers resist being confined in any way, and this can lead to a LOT of crying and screaming. These products are ones other parents of spirited kids say work for their child in the car.
#29. Soft Musical Bar
Using a soft, musical toy bar, like this one from Orzizro may provide some much-needed relief while driving. Be careful when choosing car toys that attach to the seat as they may not be crash tested.
I hadn’t heard of this mirror until my most recent survey…but I’m already in love with it! Attach this crash-tested mirror to the back of the headrest, and it will keep your little one entertained with lights, music, and of course, their own reflection. And the best part? It comes with a remote so you can control the music from the front.
#31. Skip Hop Snack Cup
Snacks are a LIFESAVER in the car or stroller…but handing over a snack bowl is a recipe for disaster (or at least a spilled snack). The Skip Hop Snack Cup is designed for little hands, and the opening keeps snacks exactly where they belong – inside the cup – even when it’s tipped upside down.
Crayons and paper don’t work so well in the car, but a magnetic drawing board is the perfect alternative. The Chuchik magnet drawing board is great as it comes with two boards – one for at home and one specifically to keep in the car.
This is a great little toy both at home and on the go. For just 12 bucks, your child gets their very own tablet that will teach them letters, animal sounds and more.
This was recommended as a great car-toy on my most recent survey, which is why it’s in this section. You just have to remember to fill the little water “brush” before you leave! I can also see these being EXCELLENT to keep your little one entertained at church or a restaurant.
Falling asleep, staying asleep, and napping are often difficult for high need babies and toddlers. These sleep products are ones frequently recommended by parents of high need kiddos.
This swaddle has been a fan favorite for years now. What makes this swaddling blanket different than others is that it’s lightly weighted on the sides and front…giving your little the feeling of being held. And we know how much high need babies love being held!
As with the Nested Bean Swaddle, the Sleep Sack is lightly-weighted to provide the safe, snug feeling of being held. If your spirited toddler struggles with independent sleep, definitely give this a try!
This sleep suit has been a top fan favourite for many years now. This is the perfect product to use in that tricky transition from swaddle to no-swaddle. It’s snug and cozy, and helps muffle your baby’s twitches that may be keeping her awake.
This is another favourite that is often recommend by parents of fussy babies. Like the Merlin Sleep Suit, the Zipadee-Zip is a great tool for transitioning away from the swaddle. And I love that this product can be used for kids up to 3 years old!
In my opinion, this is the best book you can buy if you have a fussy or colicky newborn. After reading this book, I was finally able to get my high need baby to fall asleep…usually in a minute or less!
Many parents I work with have appreciated Dr. Laura Markham’s peaceful approach to parenting their challenging child. If you’re looking for strategies you can use so you can stop yelling, bribing and threatening, this is a great read.
#41. The Explosive Child
This is most definitely among my top-3 “must read” books for parents of spirited kids. Dr. Greene’s approach is one I find works extremely well for spirited kids, especially those over the age of about 3.
If you’ve ever looked at your child during a meltdown and thought, “What on earth is going on inside her little head?”, you need to get this book. Part science, part practical parenting guide, I recommend this book to every parent of a spirited toddler, preschooler or school-aged child.
#43. No Bad Kids
I’m a HUGE fan of Janet Lansbury’s approach to parenting toddlers and preschoolers. I find her methods work extremely well for spirited kids, so definitely recommend you have this book on your shelf!
#44. The Fussy Baby Book
As always, Dr. Sears’ book on high need babies was a favourite on my last survey. As the one who coined the term “high need baby”, Dr. Sears’ explanation of these more intense, more sensitive babies is a breath of fresh air to parents.
If you want to better understand your spirited child, this is THE book you need to read. Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka came up with the term “spirited”, and this book is the must-read primer on parenting the spirited child.
#46. Dr. Brown’s Bottles
Parents often tell me these bottles are a lifesaver for their fussy or colicky baby! If you suspect colic, gas, or reflux are contributing to your baby’s fussiness, investing in these bottles is definitely recommended.
Some of our parents swear by these! Others…not so much. In my mind, they’re worth trying if you have a fussy or colicky baby, or one who struggles with gas or reflux.
#48. Sling or Carrier
May parents of fussy babies like the Boba carrier, as pictured above. However, pretty much any sling or carrier will do. Some other fan favourites include the Ergo, Moby Wrap, Tula and Baby K’tan.
#49. Google Home
A mom in our group loves Google Home because it can play white noise for 10 hours straight and is so versatile. I can also see this being super useful for giving voice commands while soothing a fussy baby!
While the effectiveness of gripe water has never been proven in the research, some of our moms swear by it. And Mommy’s Bliss seems to be the brand name that comes up again and again in surveys I’ve done.
#51. The Windi
If painful gas is contributing to your baby’s fussiness, you may want to look into the Windi. This natural gas-relieving device consistently ranks highly on surveys I’ve done over the years.
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