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Adoption Gift Registry

Gift Registry for a Toddler

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

All your little boys are preshus! Nom!  After several adoption losses and struggling with infertility for years, it’s finally going to happen for my husband and I.  We are adopting a boy from China. (Interesting side note:  He doesn’t have a belly button because of surgery scars…we’re going to have great fun with making up stories about that one!) 

Advice Smackdown ArchivesIt’s our first child and he’ll be somewhere between 20 and 24 months when we bring him home.  So, since you’re so learned about boys and toddlers and what they need and what is the crap that everyone thinks we need but we don’t, could you pretty please help us by giving us a guide to what we should register for?

I know how to prepare for an infant, and we even have all of that stuff from our first adoption, which was disrupted. But…um, what in holy frijoles do we need for a 2 year old that only speaks Mandarin Chinese?  Any guidance you could provide would be so super awesome.  Also, as far as we know there aren’t any special needs or developmental delays to consider, if that informs any of your advice!


Well, my goodness, congratulations!! That’s just all-around awesome news, and deserving of extra exclamation points. Here –> !!!!!!!

And then: OOOF. Registering for a two-year-old little boy. The problem with two-year-old little boys is that they are all wildly, wildly different. Noah sat in a high chair or booster seat until he was two-and-a-half. Ezra refused to sit in either by 18 months. Noah was all trains, trains and more trains; Ezra preferred imitative play like toy food and doctor sets. Noah hated toddler ride-on toys; Ezra loved them. Noah loved his little push-walker toy that looked like a lawnmower; Ezra only wanted to push doll strollers or toy grocery carts around. Noah never cared for stuffed animals or loveys; Ezra still cannot go to sleep without a strict line-up of specific toys and blankies. They never wore the same size clothing or shoes at the same age. Even their favorite books were different.

But still, you’ll probably want a good assortment of toys with wheels and things that go (trains, cars, airplanes). A lot of simple picture books. BALLS. Bubbles. Puzzles. Blocks and things that stack and nest and are fun to knock over. Bath toys!  Some kind of ride-on toy he can scoot around on, or push around if he’s not a fan of riding. And everything on this list. And I’m sure there are specific-to-adoption books and gift ideas that our intrepid commenters can chime in with.

As for big-ticket gear and other essentials, here are things we used well into the older-toddler years, more or less:

Stroller: What type of stroller is totally a personal choice, and dependent on your lifestyle. We use a Maclaren Triumph from 6+ months old for short trips around the suburbs (like shopping), or when I’m out solo and don’t want anything heavy or hard to fold up. For trips to downtown DC or the zoo or any place that requires a lot of walking on uneven terrain, we have a Phil & Teds (technically ours is the double stroller). If you put a gun to my head and made me chose one stroller type or the other, I’d MAYBE give the Maclaren the barest edge for being lighter and easier, but then I’d cry for the Phil & Teds and ask you why you’re being all psychopathic over a stroller, I LIKE HAVING BOTH.

Carrier: I’d suggest the Ergo or the Babyhawk. Personally we have an Ergo and while it’s certainly not the prettiest carrier in the world, it’s by far my favorite one for carrying a heavier, older child. Plus, it’s super-adjustable so Jason and I can both use the same one, and while it is fairly structured and padded, you can still wad it up and shove it in a bag or under a car seat. (Unlike some of the other, more hardcore backpack-style carriers.) I love love loved carrying Ezra around on my back from about eight months old until…well, whenever he’ll still let me. Which isn’t much at almost-three, but sometimes I can still coax him.

Toddler bibs: Look for fuller-coverage styles with POCKETS to catch drips and dropped food. I like the molded ones by Baby Bjorn, but fabric styles are better for shoving in a diaper bag.

Toddler utensils: He may prefer to eat mostly with his hands, but it’s still a good idea to always have a small fork or spoon (or training chopsticks) available to work on those motor skills. And sippy cups with straws are better for oral motor and speech development than the ones with spouts.

High chair or booster seat: Depending on your son’s exact age, you might not end up using a high chair for that long, but if he’s used to being strapped in at mealtimes, it’s probably best to continue that at home. Just don’t spend a ton of money on one, unless it’s one of those fancy convertible types (like Stokke) and someone else is buying it for you. Heh. We use a simple, no-frills high chair from Ikea, then graduate the boys to a folding travel booster seat that straps to a chair. (Splash mats for the floor are also a very good idea for toddlers.)

Pack-n-Play: MAYBE. Depends. Are you planning to travel with him to meet family? Go on vacation? Will he sleep in a crib at home for awhile longer? How heavy is he? We’ve used the CRAP out of our Pack-n-Play, but of course, in the end, it’s a small crib with a 30-pound weight limit. I don’t know if you’d personally find it as useful as we have. Maybe something to score secondhand on Craigslist. (Though Ezra has been sleeping in a bed since around 27 months old, he’s still several pounds away from 30, so we could still technically use this in a pinch.)

Personal care: A combination shampoo/body wash for sensitive skin, free of fragrance or parabens or all that sketchy stuff. Same for a body lotion. Toothbrush and toddler toothpaste. Diaper rash creams. Nail clippers. A good digital thermometer. (I like the in-ear type, but a rectal thermometer is good to have to double-check for accuracy in case the numbers seem scary-high.) Tylenol, Motrin, earache drops. A room humidifier and those plug-in vapor things for colds. Band-Aids, Neosporin and ice packs for the many, many falls and bonks and boo-boos.

Baby Sign Language Books/DVDs: Since communication might be an issue for your guys, sign language might be a good way to bridge the language gap. I don’t know if there are any sign language resources in Mandarin Chinese, but the set we use (Signing Time) gives the English word (like “drink”)  followed by lots and lots of examples of children demonstrating the word/action/feeling that your son would probably still get the idea. (Plus the words are relatively simple vocab words that should be easy for you to look up and learn the Chinese equivalent for him.)

Fellow parents of current and former two-year-olds? What am I forgetting here? What can’t-live-without gear or gadget got you through the toddler years?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Kailee

    August 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm


    Firstly, I am *not* a parent of a two-year old, so take this with a grain of salt, but I have dear friends who recently adopted a little boy from Ethiopia who was 19 months old at the time.

    I would definitely think seriously about the Pack n Play. Their little one was scared of his crib at first and my friends liked having him close during the first few months, so he slept in their room in the Pack n Play.

    You will definitely need a play mat or two, and might even consider registering for a few baby-proofing items too. Also, when it comes to toys, register for some quiet ones that will be good for the plane ride back! My friends were woefully under-prepared for the trip back from Africa and ended up having to buy overpriced stuffed animals from the airport gift shops!

    Congrats again!

  • cagey

    August 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    How exciting!! Congratulations!

    When I need to go “off-registry”, I love to give baby and children’s books.

    One of my “go-to” items still to this day for baby books is the DK Publishing board book “My First Animals” (link:

    It is one of my son’s baby books that is getting saved with the baby clothes. I still get teary-eyed looking at that book so forgive me if I wax poetic as that same kid is starting kindergarten TOMORROW.

    Hands down, I STILL get so much feedback from friends and family on that particular book.  Oh and when I say “feedback” – it’s usually off-hand via conversation – as in “Oh, by the way, he/she LOVES those books you sent.”  Furthermore, since the reader may be facing some basic English language acquisition, I really recommend looking at ALL of the DK Publishing boardbooks.  We have bought most of these listed on this link.  (link:

    I used DK books with both of my kids for language acquisition and I just cannot recommend them enough.  Now, my 5.5 yo son has progressed to the older books, so I will still be a DK fan for years to come.

    The other gift book that I get feedback on regularly is Keith Baker’s “Little Green” (Link:  It is so, SO  sweet, colorful and actually a  joy to read.  Plus, the reader’s son will have fun searching for the little “hidden” caterpillar on each page.

    I did not have an Ergo personally – I didn’t find out about Ergo until I was fully invested in the Bjorn “business”.  The Bjorn worked just fine for us and I have no real complaints, but from what I personally observed with my friends carrying their toddlers around, I am a HUGE admirer of Ergo.  If I could do my carrier all over again, I would have done Ergo, hands down.

    I guess the last thing I would say is to advise the reader to not be afraid to snuggle with her son in bed.  We still co-sleep with our kids – 4 and 5.5.  That time spent snuggling is still  precious to us.  No judgment or recommendation or advice offered here.  Just an observation. 🙂

  • IrishCream

    August 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Since you don’t yet know what his interests are, do you have friends or neighbors who could loan you a few toys before you buy? Some kids will play with anything, but some will ignore anything that’s not stuffed, or will only play with blocks, or what have you. I’m remembering my three nephews at that age, and they all had such different interests. You might get more for your money if you wait and buy most of his toys once you meet him. If it’s not too overwhelming for him, and there’s one in your area, a children’s museum would be a good place to see what activities he gravitates towards.

    Also, congratulations!!!

  • nora

    August 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    I have three little girls, 3 ,4 and 5 and two are adopted from Guatemala. I wish I had skipped some of the registry items – specifically a pack n play and several other types of eating things. I needed clothes and a sling. Most adoption books (The Connecte Chid/Purvis) and many others would suggest steering you away from DVD’s because they will inhibit attachment. A child that is coming from a orphanage system needs you and lots of you. I would almost register for meals, register for a massage, register for books. It may sound impractical in the life of a two year old, but beyond a sling and many many clothes, the child really needs to bond with you and anything that inhibits that will be really hard to combat later on.

  • Diana

    August 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    My 2nd son just turned two, and we are fully out of the “gear” stage of life – no stroller, no high chair, no crib. At this stage I would focus on lots of clothes and books. A quick trip to target and you can get the necessary toddler utensils, plates, cups, basic first aid and bathing supplies. Beyond that I would just pick out a few cars, a stuffed animal, some bath toys, and one push toy – then see what he likes and go from there. My boys spend more of their time playing with sticks and bubbles than anyting else we have anyway.

  • Michelle

    August 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Most awsome bath toy in the world–

  • elizabeth

    August 15, 2011 at 11:09 pm

    a car seat 🙂

  • Kimberly

    August 15, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Big hits with my 2-year-old boy include:

    Art supplies – paper, washable crayons, maybe some finger paints?

    Books, books, books!

    Membership to your local children’s museum, children’s zoo, etc.

    Umbrella stroller (don’t skimp!)

    Water table and an old set of measuring cups.

    Bath toys – books, more measuring cups, ducky


  • Olivia

    August 16, 2011 at 8:04 am

    I second everything Amy listed, except the pack n play. I doubt it would be very useful for a 2 yr old. Personally, at that age I would skip the crib, too. He won’t be in it for very long. What Cagey mentioned about co-sleeping might be good for him for a while. He probably slept in a room with other children, no? So being completely alone at night might be a tough thing for him. And, erm, there are much less expensive “all terrain” strollers then the Phil & Ted. Since they are bulkier, and I don’t use it everywhere I picked up a used Jeep 3 wheeler for $15, and spent a little more on a more compact stroller for crowded places.

    Something my 2 yr old has loved is a $20 MP3 player with a $10 portable speaker (the player zips inside the speaker). My husband loaded it up with children’s tunes and other songs she like to dance to. Before she could talk, she would come up to us and wiggle her bottom to say, “Music please!” She carries that thing everywhere.

  • Sarah

    August 16, 2011 at 9:17 am

    Regarding the carseat, please check out this website before you buy. They offer great advice on which car seats are a better fit for your car and that the child can stay rearfacing the longest. My little guy is 22 months and we are still rear faceing. He doesn’t fuss about it and I take comfort in knowing he is as safe as he’s going to get!

  • Cassie

    August 16, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Congratulations! What an awesome age! (Says the mom of a 21 month old. :)) Definitely need things that roll – cars, trains, wagons, trucks. All sizes, all shapes – from small, hotwheel-sized cars (but age-safe versions!) to larger ones that he can ride. My kiddo ADORES anything with wheels! He also loves blocks, books and balls (again, in all sizes).
    Toddler forks and spoons would be fine, though I’ve found that he can use the adult ones just fine too, so that’s up to you. Ditto on the highchair/booster seat and the bibs. Kiddo has pretty much decided he only wants to sit in the big people chairs. And we gave up on bibs (which we had stopped using for anything except yogurt and applesauce anyways) a couple of months ago since he figured out how to pull off even the snappy ones. :S He’s also going to need sippy or straw cups (try out a bunch – kids are picky!) and maybe get him some fun non-breakable plates or bowls of his very own. I’m also a big fan of the spill-proof snack cups (like these –
    If you have any idea on size, I’d say basic clothes, because (in general) I’ve found people love to buy you infant clothes but stop once they’re toddlers. I am no longer a fan of bodysuits/onesies at this age, however, since it’s a struggle to get them snapped up with an active, squirming toddler. Your mileage may vary.
    Also? Make sure you have safety things, like cabinet locks, drawer locks, toilet thingy, etc. This is the age where they really are into exploring everything and have the means to actually get into them, so if you have any qualms about them getting to something dangerous you need to safeguard against it.
    And this may seem stupid because I’m sure you’ve thought of it but… a bigger kid carseat? One that converts from backfacing to frontfacing to booster? Or any variation other than an infant bucket carseat.
    Good luck and congratulations again!!!

  • Sara

    August 16, 2011 at 11:30 am

    I love this high chair/booster:

    If you don’t want to/need to use the tray, it works great as a booster – if you do use the tray the lid keeps everything clean when visiting!

  • julie

    August 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

    My suggestions (as a Mom of 2 2.5 y.o. boys) A taggie blanket! or some other kind of lovely with satin edging…A red ryder wagon with a canopy. Buy only pants with elastic…no onesies, no one-piece pjs. (Potty training does not get along with zippers and snaps) A nice wooden block set, a few vehicles for imaginative play, a few dolls (ones that practice zipping, buckling are nice), a play kitchen. For now, I’d hold off on things that make noise from batteries. You’ll soon have a little boy who loves fire trucks, or building towers to crash, or fixing his mommy breakfast in his kitchen. Books: good night gorilla, chugga chugga choo choo, Tickle Tickle. CD: Sound & Spirit: Welcoming Children Into The World (We love the adoption song…it’s just a great set of tunes!)

  • liz

    August 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Definitely a car seat (or two if you have two cars).

    Blue Hat, Green Hat, and other Boynton books.

    Roar and More, by Karla Kuskin.

    Caps for Sale.

    Train sets. Duplo blocks. A Xylophone.

  • Rachel

    August 16, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    One thing I would definitely do is get in contact with people who have recently adopted from China, and, if you can manage it, from the specific orphanage, region, or wherever he is. Development can differ culturally, but if he is in an orphanage there may be some considerations there… it is not anything like being raised within a family system. An adoption is a rather abrupt thing, so you may want to consider some things that may be ‘typical’ for a 2 year old here as to be transitioned into slowly post-bonding so there is something familiar there for him.

    Some thoughts (please note, my information is over a decade old from when family friends adopted an almost 2 year old from China – who we will call F from here on out).

    1. Where does he and how do the kids spend there time? F spent most of her time in a crib, for example, so you may not want to remove that as a sleeping option until later and just invest in a convertible crib.

    2. Food? I believe F was still mainly using formula/milk from a bottle, so throwing down a bunch of table food immediately may not be an option.

    Basically, just find as much info as possible and take that into consideration with what you will need to start out with. I am sure that there are plenty of internet groups out there with China specific adoption info. And congrats.

  • EW

    August 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I’d recommend the Signing Time DVDs strongly.  Even though in general I agree that DVDs are not a great idea for little kids, especially with attachment issues, these DVDs are more like an activity for you to do with your son.  Otherwise you will find he knows the signs and you don’t!

    With my speech delayed daughter, the signing was a huge help, and if his early English speech is unclear at all, the signing may help you to clarify what he wants.

  • Sarah

    August 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Hi! I worked for 5 years as a nanny in NYC to a little girl who was adopted from China. As a resource, they loved the group Families with Children from China:

    Maybe you already know about it, but I thought they might have some information to help you and your little boy with the transition.


  • Jen

    August 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    First, Congratulations, that is really exciting. I am a mom of twin boys who are rapidly approaching two. They love everything with wheels as mentioned, cars, trains, trucks as mentioned above. They also love blocks, we have about 15 bazillion of the megabloks which are a mess but less than regular legos. We have wooden blocks too. They love all of it. However, two things: the best gift they got for their birthday was a family pass to the zoo. (though similarly with a children’s museum, other museum, etc.) which gets us out of the house a lot and has paid for itself many times over. So if people ask what they can get, that might be a great idea. Amy’s advice is pretty spot on for the other stuff, though I would skip the pack n play. My second tidbit of advice is that this is the season of consignment sales, my moms of twins club has twice yearly sales, as do about a dozen other local clubs. Do a quick google search,  you can find LOTS of clothes, toys, equipment, gently used and cheap. (especially the twins sales, since we tend to have twice as many kids…) Pretty much now through the first week in October I have marked my calendar for a different resale every weekend. No sense in paying for any of that stuff full price, especially since you don’t know what he needs, wants, etc.

  • Kaela

    August 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Congrats on the baby boy! Toddler boys are my favorite, so much fun!

    I promise I’m not a troll/spammer, I read your columns faithfully, Amalah, but I actually make bibs specifically for extra coverage. I got frustrated when I couldn’t find bibs I liked when my boy got into toddlerhood. You can find them here:

    Sorry if it’s not kosher to post stuff like this. I just honestly wanted to help 🙂