Let me explain as this sounds weird. So my wife and I are foster parents, and one of the very few things you do differently for foster children than you do your bio-children is a kind of screening of their toys (and other things but lets focus on toys).

For example if you have a child in your care that is, due to abuse, sensitive to loud sounds, you avoid loud toys. If you have a child that is, due to past occurrences, prone to play with dolls in a sexual manner, you avoid dolls. Some of the things you "filter out" may seem odd from an outside perspective.

Another great example are toys that encourage expression, creativity, and interaction are favored over toys that are "one player" in many contexts as it gives foster parents a way to interact on their level. At the same time, toys that are for group play may not be the right choice for children that are currently having behavioral problems in groups.

Lastly, at least my wife and I take co-parenting very seriously, and use every opportunity to involve the bio-parents in the decision process. Sometimes, for one reason or another, they request we avoid certain toys. When it seems reasonable, we try very hard to comply. When it's not reasonable we try to be flexible and comply anyway, but the concept of reasonable is objective, and sometimes we're not able to. For example, we provide nook tables to kids of all ages. If the bio-parents don't like that (none have had an issue so far) then I don't know what we would do, as it's the primary way the children would read, watch "TV", and many other things.

At the same time if the bio parents recommend certain toys, as long as we feel they're safe, then we try to get them. This has never been a problem for us. No one has ever tried to recommend we get a 4 year old a chain saw. But it could be a problem, for example if a parent recommended the entire Disney VHS collection. First because we don't think kids should watch that much TV, second because we don't have a VCR (or anything to hook one up to).

So toy choices (in this example) can seem unusual.

How do you get others to accept your rules for toy choices?

We have a large problem with "others" getting what they think will be fun. For example a neighbor getting a toy for our foster child that would normally be perfectly fine, but for this case, it's not ok.

This usually falls into two categories.

Ignorance the neighbor just doesn't know that something as "normal" as a play dough play set is a trigger for this child.

Being Ignored usually not neighbors and friends but "grandparents", just going - "It's ok, you liked playing with it when you were a kid" (or similar). And just ignoring our rules as unimportant or wrong.

So, back to the question, how do you enforce your toy choices, when other people may not understand or respect the boundaries. And failing that, how do you "take away" a gift because it is a trigger, even though the child may not understand that?

  • Does this happen in multiple contexts, both where gifts would be expected (e.g., at a birthday party) and unexpected (e.g., "I was in the store and happened to pick up this for [child]!")
    – Acire
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:32
  • For family members yes, in both contexts. Neighbors/friends obviously happens at expected events.
    – coteyr
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:35
  • Please don't answer in comments -- write an answer! ;)
    – Acire
    Jul 30, 2017 at 11:31
  • This is actually a very good question in general, not just with regard for foster kids.
    – Ivana
    Apr 11, 2022 at 13:42

5 Answers 5


I am a controlling person on this & have no such reasons, just preference. My preference comes down to that I prefer not to have an excess of things that my children won't be interested in or have a million pieces to loose, or or or. So how I have gone to handling it is no gifts. I literally accept no gifts for birthdays at all for my kids. I suggest to all people that we LOVE pictures of you. So please gift us only photos of yourself, preferably fun/goofy ones. These go into photo albums that belong to my kids.

Secondly, when insistent, like holidays, I buy the gifts and then they pay me back OR I have an amazon list they can work from. I am not trying to be difficult. We just have limited space & it's useless for people to buy them things I know they will not really use or that have so many pieces that it will only be able to be fully used once or twice before too many pieces are lost, etc.

What I usually tell people is we would rather spend time with you than receive an item from you. So a great gift would b a few hours together at a park, or even at our home. I raise my kids trying to instill that what we own isn't at all related to how happy we are, how full our lives are, or how important we are as people. All of those things come from within & are shown by our actions, not our ability to accrue things. So I also do not want my children having a lot of things or believing that being given things is a truly important thing to have happen in life. So I have literally never had a birthday party for them where gifts were permitted. I also find this has likely been part of why so many people come to our parties. I hear lots of people tell me that they had very poor party attendance, but this has never happened for us. We simply send out invites that say please bring no presents, just come & eat & celebrate with us.

So in your case, I would likely just write a carefully worded "thanks but no thanks" sort of letter to those that are trying to be kind and suggest things that would be thoughtful & more appropriate for the situation. I am not sure what you prefer in that case, but if you do like the idea of gifts, just tailoring what gifts are given, then starting an amazon list for each new child might be a way to help handle that. If you do not necessarily want gifts given, then you can suggest visits, treats like bringing over ice cream with fun toppings, etc. That is one my kids adore as a "gift", for my parents to stop over with vanilla ice cream & all the things to make a fun ice cream "bar" to choose sprinkles & drizzles & cones & such.


I am not particularly controlling in the area of toys, though there are certainly toys I prefer over others (I'm a wood wax and wool kind of girl, so hand made toys, or toys made from all natural materials are my favorites). When I was growing up, my mother never let me have a Barbie doll, and therefore I craved barbies. I figure if I don't tell my son that anything is particularly off-limits, he won't care one way or the other if certain things aren't around.

Because - every once in a while we do get something (usually from a well-meaning family member) that I am just not ok with my son having. It will often be a noisy toy like a toddler "computer," or it could be materials that are overtly religious in nature (we are a non-religious household), or it could be something that is just not age appropriate (like some movies, or a pocketknife, or a box of homework type questions called "get ready first grade!" For a two year old...). Anyway, when my son does receive something like this, I don't make a big deal about it one way or the other (except when the item is actually dangerous to him, in which case I do take it away immediately). He will usually be interested in the item for a couple of days, and I just make sure that when we clean up, the toy gets put away somewhere out of sight. Then, as it slowly also drops out of mind for my son (which inevitably happens), I quietly remove it from circulation and send it on to a better place (or save it for later if he just needs to grow up a bit to use it). I expect that this may stop working as he gets older (he's 3.5 now) but so far so good.

At the same time as I'm taking this approach with my son, I talk directly to the gift-giver - my policy is to be direct about my preferences, explain my reasons for them, and ask that the circumstance not be repeated.

I expect that the usual respect for a biological parent's decisions might not always be extended to a foster parent, especially by the child's biological family - this makes it more difficult. If you are finding that your parenting decisions are being ignored even after the reasons behind them have been explained, then circumventing the problem by having a gift list (as suggested by threetimes) might be a good idea. This takes the focus off of what is not permitted, and puts it on what would be appreciated. You could also do gift themes, like board games, books, edible treats, beach toys, sports, etc... that may even further distract from the fact that you are avoiding certain toys and remove the temptation of buying those things specifically to make a point.

Also, if all else fails, you can go to no gifts (again as suggested by threetimes), and give the reason that you have too much stuff. Most people can understand the problem of having too much clutter and wanting to avoid having more. I've done this a couple of times because my son was the first grandchild (and great-grandchild) on both sides of the family, so we were totally overwhelmed with gifts for a while. We wound up sticking a bunch of them in the closet and then doling them out to him as "new" gifts over the next two years or so. Also, if you say "no gifts because we have too much stuff," then when people insist on getting something anyway, you can say, "well, I guess he really does need a (insert item here)," and people will be very likely to stick to that suggestion, because you've already expressed that most items will be seen as clutter, and nobody wants to give a gift that will be seen that way.

If you want to try to get family members to respect your parenting decisions (which is probably the ideal situation), you could try saying, "I have been entrusted with this child's safety and well-being, and even if my decisions don't always make sense to you, they have been made with the good of the child in mind. I'm not saying I'm perfect or that my decisions are always fool-proof, but I am working very hard to do my job and do right by this child, and I hope that I can count on you to support me in that. I know you love him/her too, and you have only good intentions when you (x), but if I can't create a consistent environment, then I can't really see what's working and what isn't. I request that you respect and uphold my decisions, and that if you have a problem with something I'm doing, you address it with me privately. And I also request that you recognize that while I value and welcome your input, my decision will ultimately be final."


You don't need anyone to agree with your choices for the kids you are parenting. As long as you are not causing a safety or negligence issue, your home operates under your rules.

When my kids were very young, the grandparents would sometimes get some of the toys that do everything for the kid; noise, lights, motion. We instructed our children to be appropriately grateful, but we also informed the grandparents that the toy could not come home and would only be for play at the grandparents house. This worked through many of the issues. The kids still owned the toy and the gift was still gratefully received, but play with toy (and nuisance) was limited and did not impact our home. In addition, the grandparents quickly learned what makes a good gift as well. Many of those toys disappeared after the kids spent the whole day playing with them at grandpa's house, ignoring the grandparents and making all kinds of racket.

For toys that cause a safety or developmental concern, you sometimes need to be direct and just tell the gift giver why you don't agree with the toy choice and that it cannot come home with the kids.

You can't control the bio home or parents, but you can limit its effect on your home. Sometimes the bio parents just don't know any better because their parents were terrible as well. You can also let the case manager know about your concerns. Some case managers will incorporate that into the bio parent coaching.

If the gift giver is a neighbor or family friend, they will hopefully change what they purchase or may just stop buying gifts completely. In my opinion, that is still better then giving gifts my kids can't have.

Unfortunately, the hardest part is having to take the gift away from the child after it has been given. When possible, offer to wrap the gifts yourself. That way you can prescreen what your kids get and can head-off any questionable gifts before they are received. However, sometimes you'll have to do the hard thing and take a gift away. We had to return a very nice Remote Control helicopter, for a 7 year old with developmental delays with hand-eye coordination. We explained to our boy that it would be very hard to use and we would rather get something else. We exchanged it for a nice RC truck and he had a lot of fun with it. I expect the helicopter would have been destroyed within minutes. Another challenge is extremely cheap gifts that quickly break. The fostered kids have a tendency to want to keep the broken gift because it was from the bio parents. We have also been pretty firm on getting rid of them, by ensuring they have other ways to remember their parents, to prevent assigning sentimental value to a broken object (which can lead to hoarding).

Ultimately it comes down to who decides what is best for your household and the bio/foster children in your care.


Each of the reasons needs to be dealt with distinctly.

Ignorance is easily cured; just add knowledge. Take any opportunity that comes up to convey your "pickiness" to people you know. This works best with people you are likely to see a lot, but aren't yet very close to, e.g. neighbors, etc.

Those who think they know better than you, or who think they are entitled to more than just an opinion on what you should give your children, are another case entirely. I call this the stupidity* problem, and it is harder to solve, at least without banishing the people in question from your life, and can require a bit of patience on occasion.

These individuals may sometimes need to leave with their gifts to get the point, and always need to leave with their gifts when they don't respect the rules. That is pretty much the only way I have found to get this point across. Sometimes they still think they know better than me, but they get tired enough of getting stuff back, or seeing it go straight into the donation bag to stop doing it. If the behavior indicates a general pattern on the part of the offender, me and my children might be better off with that person playing a more distant role in our lives until they straighten up a bit.

There are some general rules that I try to have for myself as well, though. If someone ends up bringing a gift that violates the rules, but this person did not know about the rules, it is almost certainly my fault, and needs to be handled with this in mind.

In general, I find that I usually have ample opportunity to alleviate the ignorance problem ahead of time, and that usually heads off any trouble. I also have had small piles of toys we considered inappropriate in my closet to be secretly sent to the nearest donation station when possible.

*Stupid as in they know better than to do something, but do it anyway. It may or may not indicate the person's nature or the nature of your relationship.

  • "I also have had small piles of toys we considered inappropriate in my closet to be secretly sent to the nearest donation station when possible." -- We have done this, we have quite a few toys that go back to a donation center. There is a group here of Foster Parents that "trade" toys, it seems to work very well.
    – coteyr
    Jan 29, 2018 at 13:45

While not a partial answer, we have discovered something locally that works very well for us, in instances where people just don't listen, or have had no chance to be told.

For example secret Santa situations. Can't blame "Santa". There is no way they could know.

A local group of foster parents that meet monthly essentially trade toys. So there is a place that toys that there are nothing wrong with can go, and find a good home, while at the same time, our kids can get toys that are more suited to them.

While it doesn't solve the problem, of people just ignoring our "rules" it does help with ignorance. For the people that just ignore our rules, it is tricky, but if toy rules can't be followed then there are trust issues that limit interactions anyway.

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