Becoming a Gift Detective {and a Target gift card giveaway}

Figuring out what your kids *really* want by becoming a Gift Detective ::: #MyKindofHoliday

Note: I”m a member of the Target Inner Circle and Target provided the gift card for this post.

At our house we keep gift giving simple by using Want, Need, Wear, Read as our gift guide.  The need, wear, and read are usually pretty straight forward, but the want can be difficult to figure out.

My kids, and I suspect some of your children, have no problem at all rattling off a gift list when asked.  Sometimes my kids will want something and we know about it for months ahead of time and that makes it easy to shop for them.

The tricky part is when the items on a child”s wish list change constantly.  Depending on the day, their mood, or most recent commercial influences, or what cool things they saw at a friend”s house, sometimes  their most wanted item changes.  It is hard to know exactly what to give them in the face of such indecisiveness.

Or maybe one of your kids is like my daughter Jillian was when she was a preschooler and knew exactly what she wanted but wouldn”t spill the beans to anyone but Santa himself.

Because we keep it simple, I want to make sure that their wanted item is something that they really want and I need to keep the secret from being discovered until Christmas morning.  This is where the fine art of being a gift detective comes in.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is do to some intelligence gathering and 1) find our what your kids really want and 2) keep it a secret until Christmas.

Become a Gift Detective ::: #MyKindofHoliday

Becoming a Gift Detective

Target has asked Jonna Mendez, a former CIA intelligence officer with more than 25 years of service, to share some of her tips to help moms and dads and grandparents this holiday season.

A mother and a grandmother, Jonna has an impressive resume:

  • Last held Chief of Disguise position at the CIA

  • Her duties included preparation of the CIA’s most highly placed foreign assets in the use of spy cameras and the processing of the intelligence gathered by them

  • Co-author of “Spy Dust,” a book about Jonna and her husband’s (Tony Mendez, inspiration for Ben Affleck’s character in Argo) work in Moscow during the last decade of the Cold War

I”m borrowing a few tips from Jonna and you can, too!


Kids’ Gift Detective Technique: Covert Observation

Definition: Observation uses biometrics, or the science and technology of measuring and analyzing biological data, such as body language and pokies online facial expressions, to decipher subjects’ unintentional clues.

Kids’ Gift Detective Tip: As you go about your normal routine, observe your kids’ faces and their posture. For example, gauge their reactions to the gifts featured in Target’s Kids” Gift List , known as open source material.

When their eyes dilate, their faces light up, they naturally sit up straight and tall and their body language opens up, this serves as a clue that they are very interested in something. When they are not interested, they will sink down in their seats or even cross their arms.

You can also listen to changes in their speech pattern, specifically their tone and pitch – when they’re excited about something, their tone will become lighter, the pitch of their voice will be higher and they will talk faster.


Gift Detective Technique: Access Agents

Taking another page from Jonna”s detective play book, as mentioned on A Bullseye View, this mom asked her oldest daughter (and favorite Santa”s helper) to be her eyes and ears.  If Jillian hears one of her siblings mention something they hope Santa will bring them this year, she reports back to me – “hey, mom, I heard Max say he wants those Marvel Universe guys again.”

It helps to have an agent under cover on the inside.  And, she”s proven her worth as an agent by using her skills in the field to report back to me regarding Daddy”s holiday wish list, too.


Kids’ Gift Detective Tip: Covert Shopping

My kids are almost always with me when I”m shopping, so it can be tricky to purchase gifts for them.  My personal preference is to enlist the help of a special agent babysitter to watch the kids so I can shop alone.

But, if back up isn”t available to facilitate a solo shopping trip, Jonna offers this tip:  while shopping, indulge your kids with a stroll down the toy aisle. As they interact and point out toys they like, you can easily pull out your smartphone and use the Target app to make a purchase right there in the toy aisle without them ever knowing it.

Kids’ Gift Detective Covert Shopping Tip #2: Enlist your kids in the shopping fun and do a good deed.

Want a sneaky way to find out exactly what your kids want for the holidays while also shopping for a good cause? Shop with your kids for gifts to donate to a local charity, and have them pick out the toys to donate.

Your kids will love scanning the aisles for their favorite items, shopping for the other kids and you can get some gift ideas, like I did when my five year old daughter insisted that she knew the kids would love a Sofia the First doll.

Drop off items you bought for your local charity and keep your cover in tact once you get home by ordering items for your family online.

Gift Detective :::

Thanks Jonna!  Now the only tricky part is figuring out how to hide the gifts until Christmas morning I”d love to hear from my Simple Kids readers:  how do YOU keep holiday gifts hidden, and surprises from being blown, at your house?

The Giveaway

One lucky Simple Kids reader and gift detective will win a $25 gift card from Target to help you with your holiday shopping.

This giveaway will end at midnight EST, December 13, 2013.  Open to US residents only.  Thanks and good luck!

To Enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Find more Gift Detective Tips, including Santa”s Secret Ink, at A Bullseye View. Target invites you to share pictures of your gift detective work on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #MyKindofHoliday.


Note: the kids and I had a great time hamming it up for these photos, but you should know that no wish lists or holiday secrets were compromised in the making of this post. And, big thanks to my daughter Jillian for taking some of the pictures in this post and for being my ace detective!

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Oh my, these photos are awesome!

  2. Those pics are great! I try to observe the kids as much as possible to figure out presents. Although, this year was definitely difficult. They don’t really need anything, and the “wants” that they come up with are inventions that haven’t quite hit the marketplace yet (no commercials make my kids extremely creative). Trying to access what their interests are throughout the year and supporting them with the tools they need is one of our big homeschooling philosophies, and it also works for gift giving :-)
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  3. We take notes all year round rather than just in December. Then you can surprise people by knowing what they want even if they haven’t mentioned it in months.

  4. Oh my, Kara – you’re photos are awesome! I love how much fun you and the kids look like you’re having. Great job, Jillian! She’ll remember hamming it up with you for these pics forever. :)
    Robin from Frugal Family Times´s latest post: Headaches and Sleepless Nights = Our Life Right Now.

  5. All of our presents are stored in cardboard boxes in a corner of our room. The kids never go in there so no chance of them rifling through them yet (they are all still young).

  6. Brittany S says:

    This makes me glad my daughter is still at the oblivious toddler stage! We got her a play kitchen for Christmas and it’s been sitting in the garage for weeks, right in the open, and she has no idea :-)

  7. These are the best pictures ever!
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  8. I’ve never thought about using the app to buy things in store. Genius! (My oldest is two, so I haven’t had to be too sneaky yet…)
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  9. This year I’ve bought everything online when they’re not home. The only trick is to hide the UPS/Fed Ex pacakges before they see them!
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  10. I buy everything online when they can’t see!

  11. I love this! I love to observe my kids and surprise them with what I know they want but they think no way no how they are getting. Will be doing this for my son Gray, who will be getting a teddy bear hamster!!! Also- we took the kids shopping and said they could check out the toy aisle without us… (but we were really watching nearby!) Got some good ideas that way!


  12. Since we don’t have smart phones to order in the store, we use the divide and purchase strategy. One of us distracts the kids in another aisle while the other makes a purchase.

  13. I always watch and see what toys my kids love playing with at their cousin’s house. They are about the same age so it works perfectly.

  14. Stacie Helm says:

    I love to make home made gifts so I let my girls go through my idea books on a regular basis. They always have a running list of things they want Mama to make but their favorites are usually pretty obvious. They have gotten super creative in what try would like so it keeps me on my toes and makes things fun!

  15. Right now my little one is only 18 months, so it’s easy to buy her gifts and just keep them on the top shelf of the closet! For the rest of my family (husband and my sister who lives with us) I try to give either thoughtful, creative gifts that I’ve picked up in prior months or an experience, like a restaurant gift card or movie tickets.

  16. I just have a two year old, so he’s unable to tell me what he wants, but I do observe what he likes to play with at others’ houses and what toys with a great track record his older cousins have.

  17. It really looks like you had lots of fun with this! I’m also totally hooked on reading the book you mentioned. I loved Argo and the book sounds fun. :)

  18. Just knowing what my child’s interests are gives me a lot of ideas.
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  19. Those pictures are so fun! Love how Jillian helps you out.

    We don’t have to hide presents yet (kids are young, and we don’t focus on presents too much), but I do use the power of observation like mentioned here. I observe what the kids play with and what helps them (and my son’s special needs) the most!
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  20. Gretchen D says:

    Dad is the better gift giver in our family. I always choose gifts that are too practical.

  21. This was so cute! We keep them hidden in a bag in our closet, up high. My oldest actually likes the surprise and has the will power to never get up there (whose child is this??!). Lucky for us, our daughter is too young, and small to get up there, or she’d tear it apart! :)
    Sarah M
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  22. My little girl has a girl cousin the same age. I can ask her what she’d like to get for her cousin and I instantly get ideas for things that she really wants.

  23. Still learning about the best strategies since my oldest is 3 and is just now at the point where I have to be careful.

  24. Looks like you and the kids had fun with this project! We just stash things in places the kids aren’t supposed to be, like in boxes in the basement mixed in with all the other random boxes in the basement.

  25. Very sneaky! The pictures are hilarious–great post!
    Wendy´s latest post: ‘tis the season for giving thanks (repurposing children’s books for thank you notes)

  26. Cute pictures! It looks like you and the kids had fun!

  27. cool idea!

  28. I have to use a lot of observation to discover what would be good gifts for my son since he’s nonverbal. For the most part, I have a really good track record. Unfortunately I can’t use the Target ad, although my folks used most of your methods. But I have found Target to be a good source of toys that typically work for him and aren’t easily found elsewhere.

  29. My son actually wrote a list at school and I found it in his backpack. Lucky I saw it : )

  30. Jessie C. says:

    Love your pictures! Funny and so precious. I do most shopping online and hide packages in the garage.
    tcarolinep at gmail dot com

  31. Jessica To says:

    I try to listen to my son talking to his friends about what he wants! I also take him to the store with me when we shop for his cousins and I watch what he looks at and likes.

  32. Mary Happymommy says:

    I hide gifts in a locked closet.

  33. My son is 4, so until this year I could easily toss things into the cart while shopping together and he was oblivious. That was the life! Now I have to use more stealth since he keeps an eye on what goes into and out of the cart. So I don’t have strong skills to share…yet; thanks for sharing your tips!

  34. I buy gifts online and hide them in garage

  35. I buy stuff online (and at the thrift store all year long :)) and hide it in a cabinet in my room that everyone knows is OFF LIMITS!!!!

  36. Loved the pics on this post! Great expressions. I shop online and hide the gifts at my sisters house until Christmas Eve.
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  37. I love the photos! Go, gift detective, go! :)
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  38. Great photos. My tip is to Listen, Listen, Listen. My son is always letting his likes be known.

  39. Love it! Your photos are super-cute!
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  40. My hardest problem with gift giving is that my daughter changes her mind frequently. I have to investigate to figure out if she still wants what she asks me for. Complicated! Thanks for all the great tips and the giveaway!
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  41. Love the smart phone tip, though sadly I don’t have one. I order everything online and hide it either in my closet or in the garage under blankets. Luckily my 6yo hasn’t caught on yet!

  42. My mom had the best hiding place that she recently shared with me – our neighbor’s garage! She was older and had a 2 car garage but only one car, so there was plenty of space for the bigger items (like bikes) that couldn’t be hidden at our house.

  43. My kids love to be the secret agents gathering intel on each other and keeping me up to date on exactly what the others want.

  44. We make wish lists as one of our early Advent calendar activities. Plus I keep my ears open in the months leading up to Christmas.

  45. i keep a mental note of things that the family wants during the year, and if, during the year, they do not get some of the things they want, they get it for christmas.

  46. I eavesdrop on my kids talking about stuff they’d like when they’re not aware I’m listening and then I try to jot down what I heard.

  47. I go shopping on the weekends he is with his dad and then all my stuff goes to my parent’s house where my awesome dad wraps them for me. He’s 5 and he is the most unmaterialistic kid I know so I get him what I hope he likes even if he’s never said anything about it.

  48. How I wish I had some! Santa is already bringing my almost-4yo a HUGE dollhouse that I thought she would love and grow with, and out of the blue two days ago she said she wants to ask Santa for a tea set. ??? I have never once heard her mention interest in this before! Grr.

  49. This year has been tough for me. My son has stopped playing with some toys that were at the tops of his list for months. We received some toy catalogs in the mail, but he seemed to want EVERYTHING! I am of no help with ideas or suggestions for being a gift detective.

  50. Some of the best gifts for my son have come from ideas while watching what he plays with on playdates at other people’s houses. He may never mention that he wants it from Santa, but if he spent an hour and a half playing with the one toy at a friends house (like a roll out double track racetrack) it’ll be a sure hit :)

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